Three Reasons Why Mass Shootings Aren’t “About” Mental Illness Either.

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, there were the typical Facebook statuses expressing condolences to the families, the shouts of “why” to the skies (or the internet), and the general expressions of sadness and confusion.

Then, inevitably, the politics rolled in.

Some people balk at bringing in policy discussions in the wake of a tragedy like this, but I don’t think we should shy away from it. Mass shootings affect us as a society, so we should talk about ways, as a culture, to avoid such atrocities. We are a civil people, so let us converse and have our arguments hashed out once more.

The discussion has branched into two general topics: gun laws and mental illnesses. Since we have already given an answer to the call for gun restrictions, and since there is quite a bit of that debate happening on the internet already, I want to address the “mental health” aspect of this debate.

More than the absurdity of blaming mass shootings on poor gun laws, it upsets me to see the extent to which people have accepted—without evidence and without question—that what this issue is really about is mental illness.

Regardless as to whether or not the Connecticut shooter was actually mentally ill, assuming that he was without evidence presented by a psychiatrist or psychologist is dangerous, counterproductive, and damaging to those who do suffer from mental illnesses. Here are three reasons why:

Sane People Do Horrific Things, Too.

Spouses beat their partners within an inch of their lives. People pull the trigger on a person who slights them, provokes them a little too far. Adults molest, abuse, neglect, and murder children—their own and others. Terrorists around the world murder civilians to forward a political cause. Our very own president murders innocent people at home and abroad every day. Soldiers kill. People are cruel to animals. The list goes on and on.

Human beings are fully capable of committing atrocities without being mentally unbalanced. And we do. All the time. Fully sane, mentally healthy, and sound people do terrible, terrible things.

Mentally Ill People Are Not Inherently Violent

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) currently has 297 mental disorders listed, ranging from ADHD to eating disorders, from Gender Dysphoria to Clinical Depression, and so on and so forth. The vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness have no violent tendencies whatsoever.

In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than to commit them.

By assuming the Connecticut shooter had “a mental illness” without ANY information on him other than the fact that he shot up a school, people are associating violent behavior with people who have any kinds of mental illness. This only furthers the stigma that such “well-meaning” people are attempting to eradicate.

Mental Illnesses Are… Well… Illnesses.

I know that this is a surprise to most people, but the human brain is kind of complicated. More complicated, I would say, than the rest of our body put together. Someone would not assume that a person has pneumonia because they sneezed. Why? Because sneezing could be a symptom of a lot of things, or it could be a random act. You just don’t know without more data. Even a doctor cannot make such a diagnosis.

So too, we should not sit in our fake psychologist/psychiatrist chairs and proclaim someone to be mentally ill because he shot up a school. It’s downright irresponsible to assume that someone has one based on one behavior pattern. Our minds are more complicated than that.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. It is easier, safer, to assume that something must be fundamentally wrong with a mass murderer. We do not want to face the uncomfortable truth that human beings are capable of such things. The uncomfortable fact is that we are.

The fact of the matter is that when we jump to conclusions about someone’s mental health, their abilities, or what’s in their head, we run the risk of isolating and alienating those who do suffer from mental illnesses—of any kind, mind you. We make life harder for them because we have affiliated and  associated them with the murder of children.

Not only is that factually incorrect, it is fundamentally immoral.