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The Politics of Illness

June 8, 2014

As yet another mass shooting by a young and allegedly disturbed man goes to prove, it’s getting to be a downright scary time to be mentally ill in America. Not only are the anti-gun lobbyists coming out of the woodwork and demanding that we get rid of the Second Amendment to keep guns out of the hands of people like you and me, but the calls for re-institutionalizing psychiatric patients are growing louder and more insistent with each occurrence.

I’m not going to hash over the gun debate, except to say that people don’t give up their Constitutional rights when they are diagnosed with a mental illness, and that we need wiser minds than those of our current government officials to decide how we’re going to prevent more Sandy Hooks and Columbines. I don’t trust the President or Congress to do the right thing here, not only because the political posturing that passes for debate is nothing more than big talk, but we don’t really know yet what the right thing is.

That leaves the sticky question of what to do with the millions of mentally ill Americans who have never committed, and indeed will never commit a violent crime, but who face social discrimination from all angles. There are so many degrees of illness, so many subtle ‘flavors’, yet all of them are labeled “bad” and “not us”. Society really isn’t too keen on making those distinctions because it is intellectually lazy and far too easily influenced by the mass media; it’s so much more convenient to consider the mentally ill as a monolith and deal with us on a one-size-fits-all basis.

There is, of course, a rather large problem with this view. For one thing, we are all different, and we have different illnesses which vary in scope and severity. Some people manage just fine on a low dose of antidepressant medication; others with more serious illness need intensive medication management and therapy; while still others can’t make it on the “outside” and must be hospitalized for their own protection.

But how do we know which individual is a potential Aaron Ybarra or a James Holmes? And is it ever OK to deprive someone of his or her rights as an American because of something he or she MIGHT do?

I say No. Not just because I’m mentally ill myself, but because no one should have to surrender their personhood OR their citizenship at the door to their psychiatrist’s office. Unless I woke up in China this morning, my condition is my own business and that of my doctor, not the media (unless I choose to disclose it, as I do here), and certainly not the government. I have broken no laws, nor do I intend to; why should I not have a gun in my house if I want one? And why ever would millions of Americans like me need to be institutionalized, as some of the more rabid reformers would have it, when we have proven ourselves to be stable and trustworthy enough to live in society?

There simply is no way to predict who will be the next mass shooter, and no legal way to prevent him (or her) from carrying out his/her scheme. The only thing we can reasonably be certain of is that there will be another…..and another…..and another after that. And sometimes, it won’t even be someone with a mental illness; after all, there IS such a thing as evil in this world, and it exists in humans. All you have to do is look at a Charles Manson or a John Wayne Gacy to see its face.

I wish I knew the answer to all this. But at this point, I don’t even know if there is one. All I know is that gutting the Second Amendment and locking up all the mental patients isn’t it. And I know that somewhere there exists a fountain of common sense, and that we must drink deeply of it if we are to have any hope of putting an end to these tragedies.

 

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2014 2:24 am

    You post just makes me mad. Not your opinion but the subject matter. I have Bipolar Disorder and I am a gun owner. Never should the two cross. Nor should my second amendment rights be threatened because of someone else’s actions. Nor should my civil liberties be denied because of my illness. Maybe we should lock up everyone with a cold or the flu or alcoholism.

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 8, 2014 3:40 am

      My point exactly. I’m in the same boat with you—I have BP and a gun. Actually, I don’t have it personally because my husband put it away during a bout of depression I had last fall, but there’s one in the house and it is my Constitutional right to have it. No ifs, ands, or buts.

      Not that I would use it against myself—I would never leave that sort of mess for my family to find—but I had him put not only the gun but the big bottle of Ativan away. I don’t need access to either one. One time a couple of summers ago when I was really messed up, I called the suicide hotline and was asked if I had a plan. Well, duh. I’m BIPOLAR for Pete’s sake—I have a whole pharmacy in my house, there’s enough meds to kill myself five times over, if I were really intent on doing myself in I certainly had enough stuff to accomplish the deed.

      But I didn’t, and now I’m glad I hung in there. 🙂

      Like

      • June 8, 2014 4:16 am

        My dad has custody of both my handgun and my shotgun even though there is no chance of my using them on myself or anyone else.

        Crazy (heh) how the docs give us all the meds we need to make things better while any and/or all of those meds could be used to off ourselves as well. Sometimes, when you look at those things you just have to walk away shaking your head.

        And, I’m also glad you hung in there. 🙂

        Like

  2. June 8, 2014 4:44 am

    Yeah. Me too. But it sure isn’t easy sometimes!

    Like

  3. June 8, 2014 7:31 am

    It also doesn’t help that the average American adamantly refuses to look past their own borders; I always felt like the anomaly in that regard before life took me from Texas to Britain. If they did, if only they could look across to here, there would be many forced to note the lack of ‘crazy people’ going on mass murders here. Mind, we have a stringent gun ownership policy that is supported by the population as a whole (don’t need one? you don’t get one. you CAN get one if you need one), but even with the ‘spectre’ of knife crime… you don’t hear about anyone going on mass stabbings either. And in response to the few horrors that have arisen in the past few years (the riots, the murder of a school teacher earlier this year in Leeds, the question comes up — do we militarize our culture like the US does? Do we bring in more cops and more guards and more security? And the answer inevitably, even from parties desperate to exploit the downtrodden is ‘Yeah, no. Let’s no go THAT crazy.’

    *rummages* Ah yes, we have had one mass shooting since I moved here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumbria_shootings

    The aftermath? Tighter gun controls proposed and implemented. Gasp! Yes, a few media sources tried to insist he was mentally ill, but more reasonable sources were quick to point out that no, he didn’t, stop that shit.

    This isn’t to bash on my country of origin per se, just to offer a slight angle of perspective. Because it really does upset me how demonized the mentally ill are, and that it meant like many of our brethren and sestren, I didn’t hit the point where I was able to admit I needed help until WAY past the point I actually needed help (though I continue to count myself fortunate that it’s never come to being put on a psychiatric ward). Nor is it to bash on gun ownership either; while I personally abhor guns and have only ever shot one off when I was in the military, I accept that’s just me. IF anything, I defend the rights of gun ownership of the mentally ill in the States. My best friend heather loves his guns, and that’s fine. I know him to be a responsible gun owner, and I know the most of the flimsy laws that do exist are more about protecting the mentally ill from injuring themselves (which is mete and proper when it comes to things like the cooling off period, and giving a person time enough after being on ward to get healthier. Hopefully. If treatment is available).

    Anyways, it’s a mess, and I just wish people would grow the fuck up and quit picking on those less likely to be able to defend themselves just to make themselves feel big, whether it be the mentally ill, women, people on Welfare, etc. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • June 8, 2014 6:21 pm

      “if only [Americans] could look across to here [U.K.], there would be many forced to note the lack of ‘crazy people’ going on mass murders here.”

      To get an objective perspective you really need to look at a lot more factors. At any time in the last 100+ years the U.K. has always had lower homicides. There are significant cultural differences.

      I will probably be accused of racism, but the simple fact is that violence in America has a huge racial component. The homicide rate in the U.S. is 4.8 per 100,000 (vs 1.2 for the U.K.). The homicide rates in our inner cities are astronomical in comparison and this drives up the statistic hugely for the U.S. as a whole. New Orleans has exceeded 50 per 100,000 a year for a number of years.

      The executive summary of why is because misguided social policies of the last half century or so have literally destroyed the black family in the U.S. Couple that with a War on Drugs, gang warfare, epidemic youth unemployment, and failed education in these neighborhoods you should start to get the picture.

      In FBI statistics for 2011 for homicide where the race of the offender was known it was black over 52% of the time although blacks were less than 14% of the populatoin. And blacks figure very highly as victims also.

      However:

      There are many parts of the U.S. that are decidedly safer than the U.K. For example check out this article in a U.K. newspaper a couple years ago:

      The most violent country in Europe: Britain is also worse than South Africa and U.S.
      By JAMES SLACK
      UPDATED: 18:14 EST, 2 July 2009

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196941/The-violent-country-Europe-Britain-worse-South-Africa-U-S.html

      (There has also been considerable questions as to whether the U.K. were fudging some of their crime statistics to make them look better).

      As to mass shootings you are more likely to be hit by lightning, twice in the same year, than be involved in one. On the other hand a large number of studies in the last 20 years have shown a significant number of times where a civilian in the U.S. uses a firearm in self defense successfully. In the vast majority of cases no gun is fired (and no police report filed). The criminal decides to leave the area when faced with deadly resistance.

      How often this happens is highly controversial. A Professor. Hemenway who unquestionably is in the gun-control camp has allowed that it might happen as often as 80,000 times a year (Hemenway is a professor for a medical school at Harvard funded with millions of dollars from notoriously anti-gun ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg). A Dr. Gary Kleck did a study in the 1990s that found 2.5 million self defense uses and upwards of 400,000 lives saved. However crime rates and homicides were much higher in the 1990s than today. The homicide rate in the U.S. today is half what it was then. We are approaching historic lows in homicides in the U.S. not seen since I was a kid i the 1960s.

      The real bottom line to any objective analysis has to weigh pros and cons, and above all else what is actually practical.

      On one side you might save some lives by much stricter gun control. On the other hand you may easily deprive many people of a means of self defense costing lives and human suffering as a consequence.

      “I know the most of the flimsy laws that do exist are more about protecting the mentally ill from injuring themselves (which is mete and proper when it comes to things like the cooling off period,”

      For many years I believed the fairly common sense sounding theory that the availability of firearms could lead to more suicides. In other words it “facilitated” it and if a firearm was not present then the suicide might not have happened. There are even some studies out there claiming to prove that.

      Being a skeptical sort of guy though I happened a while back to notice something peculiar. Now I would bet gun suicides are relatively low in the U.K. compared to the U.S. But have you ever asked yourself how the _overall_ suicide rates compare?

      Last data I saw on Wikipedia put it at 12.0 per 100,000 for the U.S. vs. 11.8 for the U.K., probably not a statistically significant difference.

      If one respects data and knowing that guns are hugely more available in the U.S., you should expect the U.S. suicide rate to be much higher. It is not. Hence it is likely that guns actually don’t have that much influence one way or the other. If one has one and really wants to kill oneself you use the gun. Otherwise you find another way (look at the Japanese suicide rate with almost no guns sometime).

      Apparently people who really want to kill themselves will find a way.

      There is also this interesting study that compares some countries not usually used to show America being bad, etc.:

      WOULD BANNING FIREARMS REDUCE MURDER AND SUICIDE?
      A REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL AND SOME DOMESTIC EVIDENCE
      DON B. KATES* AND GARY MAUSER**

      Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

      http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

      regards,

      lwk

      Liked by 1 person

  4. June 8, 2014 1:55 pm

    “people don’t give up their Constitutional rights when they are diagnosed with a mental illness”

    I agree but the current administration would like to do exactly that. They have been using records of veterans who may have went to a psych for counseling added to the FBI instant check database to be denied if they try to purchase a firearm.

    ” how we’re going to prevent more Sandy Hooks and Columbines.”

    One obvious measure would be to arm responsible people in our schools. Of course I am sure you know how well that idea is received by many who sometimes appear to hate guns more than they love children.

    “I don’t trust the President or Congress to do the right thing…”

    Welcome to the club! 🙂

    “But how do we know which individual is a potential Aaron Ybarra or a James Holmes? And is it ever OK to deprive someone of his or her rights as an American because of something he or she MIGHT do?”

    Not so sure of the history of Ybarra, but Holmes case if I remember news stories correctly he was a walking advertisement of his desire to do violent things.

    I would propose one possible criterion for consideration. When people are clearly out of touch with reality and are unable to process reality then perhaps there is a case of involuntary committment. Obviously diagnosing that situation is difficult. But again, I think in the case of Holmes (and Chou? Viginia Tech) it was probably evident to a lot of people before he killed anyone.

    “Unless I woke up in China this morning, my condition is my own business and that of my doctor…”

    I agree with your view. However I think it is highly probable that legislators will be pushed by the desire to “do something” where your privacy will be compromised.

    “why ever would millions of Americans like me need to be institutionalized…”

    Institutionalizing millions is not the right solution, nor do I think it would ever ramp up to what it used be like for example in the 1960s (yes, I am old enough to remember). I think it is hard to see exactly where this will go in the future, although invasion of privacy and more involuntary committals seem a likely course. I am not saying I agree with that, but I am not optimistic about how politics and the everpresent need to “do something” intersect.

    “There simply is no way to predict who will be the next mass shooter, and no legal way to prevent him (or her) from carrying out his/her scheme.”

    I am not entirely sure I believe “no way to predict.” I think Holmes could have been predicted. From what I have read Adam Lanza’s mother was trying to get him committed when he murdered her (and went on to Newtown). It seems from what I have read that many of these mass killers were well known to mental health practitioners and they often made no secret of their violent ideation.

    I do agree you can’t stop all. I however suspect some could have. Actually I believe armed people in schools would be a strong deterrent too(people like Lanza want to die, but only at their own hand, not someone else’s).

    As to legal ways to stop them, Holmes is one person who should have been involuntarily committed and there should in my view be legal ways to do so in such extreme cases.

    If you think about it this might be a protection for the vast majority of people who suffer from some diagnosed mental disorder. With less of these murders there wouldn’t be quite so much attention to mental illness as a social problem that has to be fixed (i.e., a problem involving more invasive measures for all people).

    Just for the record I suspect just about everyone is “crazy” at some time in their life. 🙂

    And yes, I have people close to me with BP issues so I have some familiarity with the issues people face once they get “diagnosed.”

    One other thing. I wrote an article a while back called “Guns And Drugs” you might find interesting.

    http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/guns-and-drugs/

    Regards,

    lwk

    Liked by 1 person

  5. June 8, 2014 4:47 pm

    You both make some excellent points here, even as diverse as those points are. Thank you for your comments!

    Liked by 1 person

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