Whenever there is a shooting, people decide they want to talk about mental health. I woke up this morning to the news about the shooting in Vegas and read hundreds of comments about how it’s the fault of mentally ill people. The news stories I read didn’t even release the name of the man who committed the horrible crime before people became mental health experts and diagnosed him as depressed. Some people wrote statuses about guns in the hands of “crazy” people and used this tragic event as an opportunity to suddenly be advocates for better mental health care. We do need better mental health care but not because mentally ill people are doomed to become the perpetrators of mass shootings. People who are mentally ill and don’t receive help are more likely to be victims of violence or die by suicide. Some people are just evil and it doesn’t mean they have a mental illness. The thing is, it’s scary to come to terms with this. It’s easier to think that someone who could hurt so many innocent people has an illness. This scares me because I’m reminded of the times when mentally ill patients were locked up in asylums and treated like monsters. People fear what they don’t understand and it makes me sad that I have to worry about this widespread paranoia potentially causing our treatment of mentally ill people to regress when it’s already not where it should be.
Despite this widespread belief that it’s all about mental health, The Atlantic has reported that only 4% of violence of any kind is a result of mental illness. This means that much less than 4% of gun violence is due to mental illness. We’ve come to think of the people behind the gun because of those who have brought a gun to school after being bullied and becoming depressed. If 96% of violence in America is not the fault of the mentally ill, why are people still blaming mental health? People are hard to convince with facts. They hold on to their biases and block out factual information that proves those biases wrong. PSAs showing a bullied boy writing a list of names of people he wants to take revenge on before bringing a gun to school have emerged everywhere, making people draw a connection between depression and violence. This connection is hard for people to let go of when it’s been reinforced so many times, including in shows like Degrassi and One Tree Hill. In reality, that bullied person is more likely to die by suicide or engage in self-harm. They’re more likely to be angry with and put blame on themselves, believing they deserve to be bullied. If you look at the symptoms for various mental illnesses you will see low self-esteem, self-harm tendencies, suicidal thoughts, fatigue, etc. Thoughts of hurting people can happen with some mental health patients but it’s not a symptom of having the illness. People with depression are more likely to withdraw from others in fear of being a burden. People with OCD may have obsessive thoughts about unintentionally causing harm to others and go out of their way to perform rituals to prevent these fears from happening.
I know my anecdotes don’t speak for everyone. I already have the statistics to prove many mentally ill people are like me but the purpose of sharing my personal experience isn’t to suggest that my individual case I’m mentally ill. The purpose is to show that mental illness does not predispose someone to violence. My mental illnesses include PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The PTSD and depression are the result of an abusive relationship and I’ve lived with anxiety my whole life. If being mentally ill made me predisposed to violence and things like bullying cause people to want to kill, wouldn’t I have killed my abuser instead of repeatedly trying to please him through gifts and shows of affection? I was bullied by my coworkers for what I was experiencing when my PTSD symptoms creeped up on me. They made fake Facebook accounts so they could message guys I liked, saying weird things. They called me crazy for having panic attacks and told me the team was better off without someone like me. I never had any thoughts about hurting them. I bought them bottles of wine. I tried sitting with them at lunch and changing myself to be more likable. I have been the person in those gun violence PSAs. I’ve been told to kill myself since 7th grade. I’ve never had a consistent group of friends and am so socially awkward I have a hard time connecting with people. Most of my time is spent alone in my apartment, just like in those profiles of the men behind the guns. I’m not dangerous to the safety of others and never will be. Any thoughts of harm I’ve ever experienced have been towards myself. I need better mental health care to be available as I’m currently without medication that would help me due to psychiatrists not being available to see me until the time when I would be kicked off my dad’s insurance and the uncertainty of what’s going to happen with healthcare. I need better mental health care so I have a better chance of getting to do everything I want to do in life like move to another state, travel on a plane to another country without having panic attacks or agoraphobia get in the way, overcome my fear of men so I can meet someone and have a healthy relationship, have my dream "Beauty and the Beast" themed wedding, read War and Peace, adopt sick and elderly animals. I need better mental health care so my risk of suicide lowers and I can put the extensive amounts of energy I’ve been putting into getting out of bed in the morning to take a shower into the things I want to be doing to help others. I don’t need better mental health care so I don’t hurt people. When you ignore mental health care until there is a shooting, you make it seem as though mental illness is the only cause of violence and that it’s inevitable for all mentally ill people to end up hurting someone. You are reinforcing the narrative that mentally ill people are dangerous and this is what hurts our fight towards better mental health care. This is what makes insurance companies not take us seriously.
Of course, anyone is capable of horrible crimes has something wrong with them mentally. There is a difference between someone with emotional and anger issues and someone with a mental illness. They’re not the same thing. Violence has also been attributed to income inequality, exposure to violent neighborhoods, and more. The brain is complicated. There are many factors that can add up to violence and anger issues can exist in a person without being accompanied by a diagnosable and treatable mental illness. People with mental illnesses are more likely to obtain a gun to end their own life than to harm someone else.
I’m not going to get into a discussion about gun control on this platform, though the heated arguments surrounding gun control play a huge part in why people blame the mentally ill. I have a lot of thoughts about what happened in Las Vegas but I wanted to be sure I made a statement about how harmful it is to only talk about mental health when violence occurs. What happened in Las Vegas was devastating. It’s okay to be scared and confused during this time. It’s not okay to use what happened to generalize about an entire group of people who are already struggling. And please, listen to people when they talk about the gun violence that occurred in Las Vegas. I’ve seen a lot of people posting statuses about how we shouldn’t be talking about gun control or terrorism right now because it’s not the right time or too soon. This type of dialogue is what allows these things to happen. It’s never the right time to talk about it so changes aren’t made and important discussions aren’t had. Shutting down the conversation is also what allows the false narrative that mentally ill people are dangerous to live on.