[NOTE: The original version of this post contained a photo of the wrong Dr. Laura Hayes. That photo has been removed, with our apologies. -Ed.]
Writing for slate.com, psychologist Laura Hayes reckons mental illness isn’t such a big deal, gun violence-wise. “Violent crimes committed by people with severe mental illnesses get a lot of attention, but such attacks are relatively rare. Paolo del Vecchio of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has said, ‘Violence by those with mental illness is so small that even if you could somehow cure it all, 95 percent of violent crime would still exist.'” Yes, but if vilifying mentally ill people (and taking away their guns) saves just one life . . . I kid. And kudos to Dr. Hayes for putting things in perspective. Oh wait. Oh dear . . .
The attribution of violent crime to people diagnosed with mental illness is increasing stigmatization of the mentally ill while virtually no effort is being made to address the much broader cultural problem of anger management. This broader problem encompasses not just mass murders but violence toward children and spouses, rape, road rage, assault, and violent robberies. We are a culture awash in anger.
That kind of talk really pisses me off. Seriously, America’s violent crime rate has been falling for decades. If we’re a culture awash in anger – a supposition I don’t accept – the tide is going out.
Anger disorders are a product of long-term anger mismanagement. They are a pathological misdirection of normal aggressive feelings. Anger is, at its essence, a part of the basic biological reaction to danger, the fight or flight response. The physiological shift makes us stop thinking and mobilize for immediate action, as though our life depends on it. It is a primitive response, and very powerful. Anger prepares us to stand our ground and fight. It helped our ancestors survive, but in today’s complex technological world, it is often more hindrance than help. The angrier you feel, the less clearly you can think, and therefore the less able you are to negotiate, take a new perspective, or effectively handle a provocation.
If that sounds like an advertisement for someone in the anger management business that’s because it is. If it sounds like the philosophy underlying the civilian disarmament industrial complex – ordinary citizens are too mentally unstable to keep and bear arms – that’s also true. For which I have one word: projection.
Uncontrolled anger has become our No. 1 mental health issue. Though we have the understanding and the skills to treat the anger epidemic in this country, as a culture, we have been unwilling to accept the violence problem as one that belongs to each and every one of us. We have sought scapegoats in minority cultures, racial groups, and now the mentally ill. When we are ready to accept that the demon is within us all, we can begin to treat the cycle of anger and suffering.
Right. The violence problem is MY fault. Maybe only tangentially – you know, “culturally” – when someone swings a crowbar at my head or tries to rape one of my daughters. Actually, not so tangentially. In either of those cases and a bunch more too, I will be violent. Unapologetically. Unrepentantly. Otherwise, I’ll be as pleasant as can be. You?