Pot Meet Kettle

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.1

I’m mentally ill. This isn’t really news. I’ve never been ashamed of being mentally ill. I’ve never felt the need to say that I am embarrassed by what’s wrong with me. I’ve been open about my experiences. I’ve made a fool of myself a few times because of my mental health issues. I don’t feel that my issues are all that makes me me. Even though they impact most aspects of my life, they aren’t all that there is to me. I know other people don’t feel this way.

Meet one of these people:

@Crimefile on Twitter

At first I thought that I was misunderstanding Paul’s response to Marci on the issue of gun control. He brought up mental illness as part of his argument against gun control. He was very big on his interpretation of the Second Amendment2 and how his right to bear arms was somehow the most important thing in the world. He wasn’t so big on other Amendments and how they might impact other people. For example, the Eighth Amendment3 or the Sixth Amendment4

First, it was a Twitter discussion. Then, Paul deleted the tweets and decided to blog about it instead, so here are the responses I have to what he has said:

Los Angeles, CA—There is little doubt that every mass shooter in the USA suffered from severe mental illness, usually schizophrenia. Most or all have rejected taking anti-psychotic medication and accordingly they went on deadly rampages.

Nope. Not true. The Washington Post actually addresses this myth in a recent article by Dr. Dewey G. Cornell, a forensic clinical psychology.5 And it’s time that we stop blaming every single one on the mentally ill, okay?

We used to put these people in mental hospitals that were more tolerable and comfortable than our jails. After our medical community determined that wonder drugs were more humane that hospitalization they convinced government officials to close the asylums.

Now the same people are simply sitting in jails and prisons without treatment. The effort to be more humane has backfired.

The solution offered against violence by the insane is to eliminate gun rights for the sane and law-abiding. They seem to forget that the insane use knives, clubs or brute force to murder. They can’t seem to understand that before the Oklahoma Bombing and 9/11 attack on America that the most significant mass murder was committed with a single gallon of gasoline at the Happyland Social Club taking nearly 100 lives.

Bringing up those events within the context of a discussion on mass murder has me wondering what all we’re considering to be mass murder. Oklahoma City was a bombing committed by an American anti-government, right-wing extremist. The events of 9/11 were 20 non-Americans using planes as weapons because a terrorist group didn’t like American foreign policy. The Happy Land fire was an arson committed by the jealous ex-boyfriend of one employee that ended up killing 87 people because the business blocked the fire exits. She survived the fire. We have two acts of terrorism with political motivations and the act of a guy who thought he could get revenge on his ex and the place she worked.

Are we going to include other acts of terror? Perhaps since 9/11 led to one war directly and another indirectly, we should include things that happen within wars. Perhaps we should also include things that lead to wars. Should we include acts of terror against other countries that were perpetrated here? Should we include other anti-government acts, or do the reverse and show acts of violence perpetrated by people on behalf of the government that ended in the deaths of other people? Since we’re talking about a fire started by a jealous ex-lover, do we include all acts where an ex kills or attempts to kill someone because that ex feels jilted in some way? Do we include school shootings? Do we include workplace violence? Do we include spree killers? Do we include family annihilators? Do we include serial murders? Do we include genocidal actions towards the indigenous population of America? Are we going to talk about all mass killings or just the 1-in-6 that are known by the public?6 Or that 25% of mass killings that don’t involve strangers, gangs, or robberies are due to a breakup.7 Or how 57% of victims knew the attacker, even if they weren’t that attacker’s initial target.8 Or how some are from being fired9 or being evicted10.

Now, I don’t know Paul’s experiences in the mental hospitals of old or the jails that exist, but from what I know, they were not “more tolerable and comfortable” than the jails and prisons in this country.

I’m guessing that he didn’t realize that compulsory sterilization laws impacted people in institutions for criminals and ones for the mentally ill, as well as outsiders, the poor and minorities. The eugenics law craze started in 1907 in Indiana and spread to 30 other states. People who were seen as defective underwent sterilization procedures. I’m guessing he also was unaware that between 1936 and the late 1950s, an estimated 50,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States. Between 1953 and 1957, in Athens County, Ohio, there were 200 frontal lobotomies performed at Athens State Hospital during 7 visits by one doctor, Walter Freeman. His technique was different from the type performed by Egas Moniz, in that he did his quickly, outside of an operating room, and without anesthetic drugs. Instead, he used electroconvulsive therapy. Basically, this guy used electricity to induce seizures so that he could then destroy part of that person’s brain more quickly. Screw the pain. Screw the suffering. And he didn’t just do this in Ohio. He did it in around 50 state hospitals all over the country. After he took part in a recommendation to the VA for lobotomies, 2,000 veterans were lobotomized by the US government. Other doctors suggested he enjoyed doing the procedure a little too much.11 Freeman was also the doctor behind the lobotomy of Rosemary Kennedy that led to her being physically and mentally disabled.

Mentally ill persons were also given electroshock treatments without having lobotomies, too. It was considered a valid treatment for schizophrenia and other issues. Though it is still done now, it is not nearly as dangerous, in part because the dose is lower and the procedure is done under general anesthesia. Previous uses of it included extremely high doses of electricity and a lack of anesthesia. It caused memory loss, fractured bones, and other serious side effects.

So, yeah, I’m not exactly feeling the warm fuzzies towards the mental hospitals.

It’s impossible to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the insane that are driven or determined to kill. We must face that fact and deal with it.

I don’t have the answers to or mental health problems of America anymore than I have for the millions of Americans using street drugs and alcohol. However taking the rights of the sane, sober and law-abiding is no answer.

If we really care about the mass killings we have to address and revisit the real issue behind these massive catastrophes. If we refuse to consider reopening the mental hospitals we must accept that we will continue to have these unthinkable tragedies.

Let’s not use the word “insane” or “crazy” or anything like that. Also, let’s not pretend that the mentally ill are less human because of their illnesses. You don’t look at a patient with a brain tumor or with migraines or with epilepsy as being less-than-human, right? Well, the same goes for the mentally ill. Each of those issues involves the brain. Each can cause a person to act in a way that is not necessarily consistent with their behavior or with what is considered normal for the place that they live in.12 The mind and the brain are the same place. It is time we stop treating mental illness like it is less of a physical problem than it actually is.

And if the solution to this problem is to strip a person of their freedom so that you can keep your guns, then I’m going to say no. More than 1% of the country’s adult population is incarcerated, with a quarter of those being seriously mentally ill. That means that 75% of the adult prison population in America is not seriously mentally ill. It seems like if we were going to put a bunch a people in jail for potentially being a threat to lives, we’d choose the ones who weren’t mentally ill. The odds that they would commit a crime seem to be higher. But that probably wouldn’t be very popular because those are people who are not disenfranchised because of a disability.

The horrible massive shootings were unheard of in America until we ended hospitalization of the mentally ill.

This is not true. Aside from being factually inaccurate, it makes it sound like deinstitutionalization was some quick process. The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and intellectually disabled took place over about forty years.13 The peak number of mental institution patients was measured in 1955. President Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act in 1963.14 By 1977, there were 650 community facilities and they served 1.9 million patients. If the number of cases of severely mentally ill patients grew at the same rate of growth as the country’s overall population, then there were only around 749,674 people who would have been in the hospital.15 Three years later, Jimmy Carter signed a bill to restructure the mental health care system to improve services for the chronically mentally ill. The next year, under President Reagan, that legislation was repealed and established block grants for the states, which ended federal funding of services to the mentally ill.16 In 1985, the federal government dropped its funding of community mental health care from 30% to 11%.

The Happy Land fire17 happened in 1990. There were mass murders and mass shootings before 1990. Or how several of those mass murders are still among some of the worst in the history of the country.181920212223242526272829

And not all of the mass murders since then involved a mentally ill person. For example, despite what a lot of people think, Adam Lanza was not actually diagnosed with a mental illness. Then there are people like Wade Michael Page, who committed the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. He was a racist, not a psychiatric patient. There are no indications that Sonny Enrique Medina was mentally ill, but there are some that he was abusive. Mental illness didn’t cause Lawrence Myers to set a building on fire to cash in on the $250,000 insurance policy; greed did, though.

Is it fair to allow the dangerously mentally to roam free and force the law-abiding to surrender their right to keep and bear arms? Disarming people does not make them safe. Not only is it unfair it’s absolutely unconstitutional.

Roam? We aren’t fucking deer or buffalo, dude. We’re people. People who deserve to be treated just like all other people. We have rights, just like you do. The same exact ones. And to suggest that all people who are “insane” need to be locked up to protect the rest of the public is a truly fucked up idea. Who decides what meets the characteristics of “dangerous”? Do we put everyone in when they’re first diagnosed? Or do we wait until they actually express a desire to harm other people?

I won’t get into the whole “that’s not what the Second Amendment really means” debate thing right now because I’m pretty sure I’ve covered that before. I will point out that putting a person into a psychiatric hospital that you cannot say for a fact is dangerous is unconstitutional. It is a form of imprisonment. It would be considered a cruel and punishment. And it could be a violation of that person’s due process. These rights are no less precious than your belief in owning guns.

We need a sea change in our approach to threats of violence. The police are hamstrung by an antiquated model which requires them to either arrest someone for a crime or determine that they are mentally ill and imminently about to harm someone. Most cases do not fit into either pigeonhole. Locking people up in a jail or a hospital to prevent violence is not the answer.

In case after case of mass shootings, we learn later that family members, friends, and even mental health professionals were concerned that someone needed help. Predicting violence is difficult, but identifying that someone needs assistance is not so difficult. This is where we need to readjust our focus and concentrate on helping people in distress. This approach requires not only a change in police policy but community mental health services that are oriented around prevention.

You’re right that we have an antiquated model for treatment. We’re back to 1850’s standards of using jails as psychiatric hospitals. We need to increase funding to the mental health care system. People who need to be treated don’t necessarily need to be hospitalized. People need to have access to medication and to therapy that they need without having to worry about costs. They need to be able to secure treatment without having to worry that they will lose their job or their kids. If you want to advocate for a better mental health care system, then I’d get behind that. If you’re just going to advocate locking up other people because your rights are more important than their rights, then I’ll just point out how hypocritical you are being.

  1. NAMI 

  2. A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. 

  3. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. 

  4. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense. 

  5. It seems intuitive that anyone who commits a mass shooting must be mentally ill, but this is a misuse of the term “mental illness.” Mental illness is a term reserved for the most severe mental disorders where the person has severe symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. Decades of mental health research show that only a small proportion of persons with mental illness commit violent acts, and together they account for only a fraction of violent crime. Some mass shooters have had a mental illness. Most do not. 

  6. 51% of mass killings are family related. 

  7. A breakup is the trigger behind 1 in 4 mass killings that do not involve strangers, gangs or a robbery gone wrong…And often, that violence occurs in families that otherwise seemed normal. 

  8. 1 in 4 were closely related. 

  9. UAH shooting by Amy Bishop Anderson 

  10. Stanley Neace in Breathitt County, Kentucky 

  11. In 1948, one senior VA psychiatrist wrote a memo mocking Dr. Freeman for using lobotomies to treat “practically everything from delinquency to a pain in the neck.” – WSJ 

  12. Yeah, even migraines can impact behavior. 

  13. Deinstitutionalization began in 1955 with the widespread introduction of chlorpromazine, commonly known as Thorazine, the first effective antipsychotic medication, and received a major impetus 10 years later with the enactment of federal Medicaid and Medicare. Deinstitutionalization has two parts: the moving of the severely mentally ill out of the state institutions, and the closing of part or all of those institutions. The former affects people who are already mentally ill. The latter affects those who become ill after the policy has gone into effect and for the indefinite future because hospital beds have been permanently eliminated. 

  14. President John F. Kennedy signs the Community Mental Health Act to provide federal funding for the construction of community-based preventive care and treatment facilities. Between the Vietnam War and an economic crisis, the program was never adequately funded. 

  15. The number now would be around 1,068,483. There are 43,000 total beds in this country to take care of patients, though. There was also another $4.35 billion in public-mental health spending cuts from the federal government in 2009. 

  16. Three years after that the study from Ohio about 30% of homeless people being mentally ill came out. 

  17. The Happy Land fire resulted in the deaths of 87 people. Many of those deaths might have been prevented if the club had not blocked fire exits. 

  18. 1989: Louisville, Kentucky – Joseph Wesbecker. 

  19. 1989: Stockton, California – Patrick Purdy. 

  20. 1988: Sunnyvale, California – Richard Farley. 

  21. 1987: Palm Bay, Florida – William Cruse. 

  22. 1986: Edmond, Oklahoma – Patrick Henry Sherrill. 

  23. 1984: San Ysidro, California – James Huberty. 

  24. 1984: Manley Hot Springs, Alaska – Michael Silka. 

  25. 1984: Dallas Texas – Abdelkrim Belachheb. 

  26. 1982: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania – George Banks. 

  27. 1982: Miami – Carl Robert Brown. 

  28. 1973: New Orleans, Louisiana – Mark Robert James Essex. 

  29. 1966: University of Texas – Charles Joseph Whitman. 

About Janet Morris

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. I've got as many college credits as a doctorate candidate, and the GPA of some of them, too. I have a boss by the name of Amy Pond. She's a dachshund. My parents both grew up in Alabama.