Our Nation’s Mental Illness

“Our society tends to regard as a sickness any mode of thought or behavior that is inconvenient for the system and this is plausible because when an individual doesn’t fit into the system it causes pain to the individual as well as problems for the system. Thus the manipulation of an individual to adjust him to the system is seen as a cure for a sickness and therefore as good.” ― Theodore Kaczynski

One of the discussions taking place in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is the role mental health played in the shooting. Was the perpetrator suffering from some ailment of the mind that caused his bloody rampage? Was it a failure of society to treat his problem? It is the simple explanation. No one who is sane could murder school children or rampage through a movie theatre playing out some delusional fantasy in their mind. When we see bodies of innocents on our glowing TV screens, we look for someone to blame, some  “other” who thinks differently, or is somehow broken.

We as a society stigmatize people with mental illness and fail to give them the proper or most effective help they need. On one hand, societal stigmas do help to incentivize certain types of behavior or dis-incentivize others. The entire criminal justice system is, at its core, a mechanism of stigmatization intended to deter criminal activity. But here’s the problem: we have applied social stigmas to behaviors and illnesses that are not a product of free will or conscious decision-making. Our failure to offer the proper assistance to mentally ill members of our society is a failing that does, if only to a limited degree, amplify the violence in our society. Helping the mentally ill must be a factor in our national discussion on violence and gun control.

However, the hard truth that should keep us up at night, drive us to hold our families close and inspire us to finally take action is that barely 4% of violent acts in the United States are perpetrated by individuals with mental illness. This isn’t some “other” rampaging about our streets, with a different biological composition; the perpetrators look like us, behave like us, and, yes, they think like us. No amount of aid to the mentally ill or limitations on their ability to procure weapons will solve the problem of violence in our society.

At the end of the day, the perpetrator of the heinous slaughter of the Newtown children was, according to current law, already ineligible to purchase a weapon because he did not meet the age requirement; after unsuccessful attempts to purchase guns at a sporting goods store, he was forced to steal the gun from a family member.

We have a problem in our country; it is multifaceted and impossible to address with any one easy fix. If we fail to embrace the complexity and look holistically at its causes, we will never stop the blood on our streets or, now, in our schools.

Image Courtesy of the Columbus Dispatch.

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Zachary Rosenberg

About Zachary Rosenberg

Zachary Rosenberg is a 2012-2013 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. He is a native of Albuquerque, New Mexico and graduated from Occidental College in 2011.

One Response to “Our Nation’s Mental Illness”

  1. Thanks for analyzing these issues. I, too, want to pause before proposing solutions to gun violence.

    However, I don’t know if I understood your point. You conclude that no increase in mental health services or changes in gun laws “will solve the problem of violence in our society.” But, if we address the complexity, we can “stop the bloodshed.” Perhaps at best we can reduce violence, never eradicated.

    And then the odd quotation at the beginning from the Unabomber, who was never officially diagnosed with a mental illness though often considered insane. He is supposed to represent one whose voice is unfairly rejected because it inconveniences the system?

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