By J. M. Daniel

Since the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook, the usual debate around gun control has taken on a new facet that threatens rights in addition to those guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Those on both sides of the pro- and anti-gun rights argument have increasingly focused at least part of their attention on one misunderstood minority: people who suffer from mental illness. The idea is beginning to take hold that individuals who have some form of mental illness are now as much a contributing factor to mass shootings as the accessibility of the weapons themselves . . .

Maybe most insidious are the calls for the establishment of a federal database of the mentally ill. It would, of course, all be done in the name of public safety, to keep guns out of the hands of “mental defectives.” Calls for a government-sponsored program were heard only hours after the Newtown shooting.  This same subtext is beginning to creep into the talking points of politicians, albeit usually as a call to improve the health services available to the mentally ill.

Various opinions on the subject are presented as if the proponents have a thorough understanding of those with mental illness – the multiple types, combinations, the varying degrees and behaviors, the specific treatments and drugs used. These self-appointed experts imply they know what goes on between psychiatrist and patient.  Portraying it as a simple process in which the patient is asked a checklist of straightforward questions, their behavior is observed during office visits and presto-change-o, the probability of said patient taking out a theater full of movie goers is unequivocally established. Have any of these so-called “experts” walked in the shoes of the mentally ill?

I have. Because I’m mentally ill.

I’m a bipolar II, diagnosed 15 years ago. One who faithfully takes my medications and regularly sees a psychiatrist and psychologist. At the same time, I’m a wife, mother, successful business executive and artist. Sandy Hook has torn through my heart the same as it has so many others across the country. But I’m also scared.

I’m scared of becoming a pariah, painted with the same broad brush that so many now want to use to label everyone with a mental illness — as a potential threat. By their simplistic logic, I’m mentally ill so my diagnosis and activities need to be tracked . . . potential spree killer, though I’ve never held a gun and have no access to firearms.

A few facts: twenty percent of American adults — more than 45 million — have experienced some form of a mental illness in the past year, according to data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That 20% includes everything from from mild bouts of depression to delusional psycho- and sociopaths. If 1 in 5 people have some form of mental illness, how many have you bumped into today?  How many made you feel threatened?

The overwhelming majority of the mentally ill don’t stand out or create an environment of fear for anyone.  Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, the Clackamas Town Center and now, horrifically, the Sandy Hook shootings were committed by five disturbed individuals with severe mental illnesses. That represents .000000003% of the general population. So go ahead and shake in your boots despite the fact that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than being the victim of a mentally deranged murderer.

Those with mental illnesses aren’t the silent, creeping threats that’s being portrayed.  Development of a database to track them — assuming it could be accomplished — would punish the vast majority for the acts of a tiny indefensible few.

Ronald Kessler, professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School who has led two national surveys of mental illness, said that some of the doubts about the prevalence of such disease are related to the stigma attached to it. As he told the Wall Street Journal:

If I told you 99.9% of people had a physical illness [over a lifetime], you wouldn’t blink an eye,” he said — especially if physical illness were defined to include minor ailments.

But in the current post-Newtown climate, the increased fear of being labeled crazy and potentially dangerous will cause many who need help to hide instead.

The social stigma associated with mental disorders is a widespread problem. Some people believe those with serious mental illnesses cannot recover, or are to blame for problems. The US Surgeon General stated in 1999 that: “Powerful and pervasive, stigma prevents people from acknowledging their own mental health problems, much less disclosing them to others.” Employment discrimination is reported to play a significant part in the high rate of unemployment among those with a diagnosis of mental illness. An Australian study found that having a mental illness is a bigger barrier to employment than a physical disability.

As with any form of discrimination this is predominately based in ignorance. An overwhelming majority of the mentally ill are fully functioning members of society. From samhsa.org:

“Although mental illness remains a serious public health issue, increasingly we know that people who experience it can be successfully treated and can live full, productive lives,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “Like other medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, the key to recovery is identifying the problem and taking active measures to treat it as soon as possible.”

Bruce Link, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said that even if there are elevated risks from some people who are mentally ill, they are no higher than for other groups, such as that between high-school dropouts and college graduates.

We’ve seen similar groundswells of fear happened before (think: Patriot Act). As the saying goes, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Now couple that with the exploitation of fear as an impetus for tracking specific groups of people so as to physically separate them from society. Then add current technology capable of capturing every aspect about each of us (you’re naive to think otherwise).

A similar process happened 70 years (sans the technology). During World War II, the mentally ill — defectives, as the Germans called them — across Europe were sent to “work camps” under the guise of protecting the general population. Jews, the disabled, the homeless and subversives were then also crammed into cattle cars and sent to join them later to be systematically exterminated. In our own country, Japanese Americans were labeled enemy aliens, uprooted from their homes and sent to interment camps all out of the same fear and ignorance.

An extreme example? Probably. But remember, something sparked those events. I hope the heinous acts of five mentally disturbed individuals won’t be the fuel that feeds the flames threatening to engulf the innocent mentally ill or the right to keep and bear arms. A result that would, over time, crush one of the the bedrocks upon which our freedom stands.

 

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47 Responses to Guns, Mental Illness and the Climate of Fear

  1. Welcome to our world, JM. 99.99% of us are law abiding gun owners. But to hear the press and the grabbers tell it we’re all one bad day away from a spree killing.

    • Thats funny jwm, just in the other thread you were calling me mentally ill and saying that I shouldn’t be allowed to own guns because of it.

      • I believe what I said was I wouldn’t trust you with a rubber band gun. Some people shouldn’t have a gun. From the comments you’ve made since I started visiting this site 6-8 months ago, yes I believe you’re mentally ill.

        Now go ahead and make my point for me, matt.

        • jwm says:
          December 25, 2012 at 00:19
          Well, matt. We’ll just have to agree to disagree about your mental stability… It was your repeated claims of being a “proud racist” that was one major warning sign…

          jwm says:
          December 25, 2012 at 00:35
          …All I said was that you couldn’t be trusted with a gun, or words to that effect…

  2. I agree with everything you said. I know a bipolar and five people that suffer from depression. They are pretty normal people. I do not want to see them punished for the acts of a few, the very same that are causing us gun owners grief. I do not want to see anyone lose their rights through this. Instead of offsetting the argument onto the shoulders of the mentally ill and the entertainment industry, we should be focusing on the most important thing; school security. This issue alone has the potential to end these rampages. So let’s push forward and not waste energy on petty arguments.

    • If you Meyers-Briggs test CEOs and upper management, they’ll generally indicate as borderline sociopaths. ‘Natch Meyers-Briggs has been thoroughly discredited for a decade or more, but it still gets used to determine all sorts of things. About kids. In schools.

      My bigger point was that most folks who do anything, or ever feel an emotion, are likely to be technically “diagnosable” at some point in their lives. Most still retain the good judgement to stay away from guns when the depression sets in.

      • The Myers-Briggs does not assess psychopathology in any way. None of the 16 types is considered by MBTI literature to be better or worse than any other type – it’s one of the hallmarks and stated benefits of the assessment.

        We can certainly argue about the reliability and validity of the assessment, and its use/over-use/misuse. But it no more assesses mental illness than a cow squirts Scotch.

        It also has not been thoroughly discredited.

        And I know of no reliable research regarding the supposed prevalence of borderline or other personality disorders among corporate CEOs. There was a flurry of research a couple of years ago regarding whether such people might have a lower level of empathy than others in the general population. That might (repeat, might) equate to a prevalence of logical, objective, thinking decision-making preference (versus feeling) in that population, from an MBTI point of view, but that’s just conjecture.

        I’ve worked for a large corporation for over a quarter of a century, and while I did not care for many of the executives I supported or ran into during those years, I would hardly call them sociopathic.

  3. Maybe it’s time to just admit life has risks and to attempt to solve for every one is not worth doing? Truly, the risk of dying in a massacre of any type is VERY, VERY, small. People should stop using the recent tragedy as an excuse to push one’s agenda or solve a problem for which there is no solution. Let’s trying being grownups about this.

  4. A-freaking-men.

    Few of us are any physical threat, and of the few that are, the majority (of that small percentage) are threats only to themselves. Yay depression! (That’s sarcasm, son.)

  5. My experience with SSRIs convinced me they are sociopath pills. I was put on them as a teenager due to having typical teenage depression. What kid doesn’t experience it at some point with all that testosterone being released and a brain not mature enough to handle it? Anyway, for the years I was on them my life was a shallow blur of ****ing and antisocial behavior. I missed a lot of good opportunities to develop relationships with nice women all because I couldn’t feel a damn thing other than adrenaline highs.

    Three years ago I went off them and underwent a horrible withdrawal experience. It was hellish. But I got through it and now I’m a normal functioning adult able to experience a full range of emotions and with a nice social life.

    I think SSRIs are way over-prescribed and that psychiatrists should only give them out to extreme cases, like people at risk for suicide that are being watched in a hospital setting.

    YMMV.

    I’m not saying they don’t help people but their prolonged use wasn’t good for me.

    • You are the second person I’ve heard say that. I wondered if they were full of it when they did (they did not take them) because they didn’t suffer from anything.

    • Some of the drugs are scarier than the disease, especially to the folks taking them. One of my exes was diagnosed bi-polar with borderline MPD – (I know DSM IV calls that rare, DSM V has the numbers much higher). Regardless, without getting into the brand names, there were a couple of meds that she tried out which made her worst day untreated seem like a ecstasy marshmallow playdate with the Care Bears.

      Suicide warnings for Chantix? There’s several drugs in the Risperdal-and- beyond-land that can render the patient on the border of truly dangerous to themselves and to anyone/anything within reach. Or it can make them perfectly “normal”. Best part? They have to figure it out by trial and error.

      We’ve learned a lot about the brain compared to what we knew even 20 years ago. But we are still likely 50+ years away from having any sort of decent understanding of how the onboard chemical computer really works.

        • APBTFan, even a shotgun can often be made to effectively work if you spend a ton of time and effort figuring out what the patterns are.

          My personal experience tells me that all but the most hopelessly effed up can eventually find the right ‘cocktail’, but the process can be very painful and expensive on several fronts.

          Best of luck good man.

        • Thank you sir. The best to you as well.

          You are absolutely correct in that even the worst off can be eventually helped and that’s a great thing. The hard thing is enduring the time it takes to find the right combination.

    • For those that meds aren’t appropriate yet are still prescribed the effects can have at worst the complete reverse effect and at best a mild reverse effect. Neither are therapeutic and should, given a responsible doctor, be stopped immediately.

  6. J.M. Daniel,
    I think you are over-generalizing when you say that everyone is talking about stigmatizing every person with a mental illness. I hope no one is talking about doing that.
    However, I do think that people with certain types of mental illnesses, and certain types of delusions and desires, should be kept away from firearms, and probably should be institutionalized, to protect society from what they might do. We need to keep from over-reacting, but we do need to deal with the few who are a danger to themselves and society.

    • I do think that people with certain types of mental illnesses, and certain types of delusions and desires, should be kept away from firearms, and probably should be institutionalized, to protect society from what they might do.

      I agree. We tend to try to prescribe mental illness away, and the truth is that drugs don’t always help. Some people need to be locked away to protect society.

  7. “.000000003%”

    Exactly. We’re dealing with an enemy media which uses statistically rare examples to construct an anti-firearm narrative. 300 million people and you’re bound to see more aberrations.

    “Beyond a critical point within a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase… the human question is not how many can possibly survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those who do survive” — Frank Herbert

  8. I think we are going to be in an uphill battle if the insinuation is that we can’t point to mental health as being a worth while part of the overall solution to “Rampage Rage” or “Shooting Sprees”.

    Is “Rampage Rage” common as a matter of number of gun owners? No.

    Is it common over a short span of recent history? Yes.

    A common theme I hear on these boards basically boils down to, “truth and facts should dictate logical action”.

    If we looked at what we are trying to avoid in the future, and analyzed the problem analytically, mental health will be a critical component. Then, the solution should encompass some sort of mental health piece. Even if its just education.

  9. Nobody is stigmatizing you, J.M. As far as there being some “list,” rest assured you’re already on several. That’s the world we live in today.

    The best proposal that I’ve read, right here on TTAG, called for information to be provided to NICS based not upon diagnosis of a particular illness, but on certain behavior. For example, if a person is suffering suicidal or homicidal ideation or delusions, that would be reported to NICS so the individual would not be able to buy a gun.

    Gun owners stand for a lot of things, good and bad, but I don’t think we stand for the position that homicidal people should have guns. We may be gun nuts, but we’re not nuts.

    • Gun owners stand for a lot of things, good and bad, but I don’t think we stand for the position that homicidal people should have guns.

      You’re wrong. The vast majority of gun owners support the military. It is their job to either directly commit homicides, or to enable their peers to commit homicides.

    • Suicidal or homicidal ideations are commonplace within a certain amount of the mentally ill (I’ve seen it over and over) but very, very rarely acted upon. The only reason a mentally ill person should be listed with NICS is if they’ve been mentally adjudicated by a court with removal subject to appeal.

      The toughest part of this subject is that anyone who hasn’t personally dealt with mental illness can only guess at what we deal with and a guess isn’t enough to be put on a list. It’s much different than telling someone you have diabetes, heart problems or arthritis. The common physical ailments get an immediate pass but the second you mention you’re mentally ill you’re open to all kinds of ignorant crap. I’ve learned my lesson and don’t mention it anymore. I have a bit of experience with 25 years of severe mental illness under my belt. I take my meds, never miss an appointment and my coworkers would laugh at the suggestion that I’m mentally ill.

      There are two huge hurdles. One is better mental health care. Every time I show up for my regular appointment at the state run facility (I’m poor) I see plenty of folks way off their rocker that I’m positive could be much, much better off with more comprehensive care. The second is that even the most cutting edge meds nowadays are still a shotgun approach. Even today we know only the rudimentaries of brain chemistry. We have three basic drugs that boost norepinephrine, dopamine or serotonin and every individual needs different levels of different ones to be at their best. Given that each med needs at least four weeks to reach therapeutic levels and there are usually multiple meds involved it can take months and months to find the right balance for an individual. It’s a real bitch. Couple that with a state run system and the outlook is dismal.

      I’d personally like to see a push for better mental health care, better education about mental illness and better tools to get folks that are raising multiple red flags the help they need whether they like it or not. Additionally the truly sick and delusional are very subject to influence and the goddam media lionizing these sick fucks that kill a bunch of people doesn’t help.

      • +1 Thank you.

        To expand on what you said abou the meds, those neurotransmitters that the meds act on are also involved with tens if not hundreds of other processes in the brain aside from whatever is causing a particular disorder. That’s why there are so many side-effects. Our knowledge of the brain is expanding faster than ever before, but we’re still in the dark about many of the intricacies of brain function. However, the medications available are the best we have available.

        How they are prescribed is a whole other story.

  10. I think the important question would be “who gets to make the decision that someone is mentally ill?”

    Don’t agree with liberals? Mentally Ill
    Smoke Cigs? Mentally Ill
    Waste your life painting? Mentally Ill
    Play violent video games? Mentally Ill
    Eat too much McDonalds? Mentally Ill

    All I see is a future where government employees get to put away those who don’t agree with them into hospitals and asylums where they aren’t “a danger to themselves or anyone around them” anymore.

    Scary.F*cking.Sh*t.

  11. Lost me after the first sentence. “Misunderstood minority” as a label for wacko’s. Misunderstood by who? Not me. Now that we have applied a label to this group how long before they get special government benefits?

    If you are a little nutso, or a lot nutso, you should not drive a car or carry or own a gun, but you can run for the Senate or House.

  12. I read a comment by some gun-grabber that claimed anyone wanting to own a gun is proof that person suffers from a mental disorder. Such is the way many gun-phobics and naive supporters of a police-nanny-state-utopia think or rather feel since thinking is the last thing they are capable of doing.

  13. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.

    Bi-polar, autism, ADHD, Aspergers, and schizophrenia are parts of a cloud of related mental illnesses. Many sufferers exhibit the symptoms of more than one of these illnesses, and in varying degrees.

    Anyone who is not 100% mentally competent 100% of the time, or who has a problem with drugs or alcohol, has no business carrying a gun.

    Period!

    Charlie

    • Charlie,
      I’m not sure I can agree with you 100%, but your argument is irrefutable.

      Being a gun owner requires a high level of responsibility. Therefore anyone who is not 100% responsible for his own actions, should not own a gun. You can’t argue with that. It truly is that simple.

    • Define 100% mentally competent.

      BTW, your standards should also be applied to driving, holding political office, being a cop or a judge, etc. This is probably one way to shrink government; so few candidates for office would qualify.

        • +1. Might also take a look at the North American Arms mini-revolvers in .22 or .22mag. Small enough to dppaisear in a pocket (using a pocket holster) very light and unobtrusive. Unless they run you through a metal detector, no one should realize you have it as long as you NEVER SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT TO ANYBODY, no matter how pro-2nd Amendment they are, no matter how much of a friend they are. NEVER mention to any one that you are carrying. ( Three may keep a secret if two of them be dead. Ben Franklin??) If you have to use it to protect your life, the loss of your job will be way down on the list of things to worry about .

  14. Before you buy into this mental health stuff, ask yourself who gets to set the criteria, who gets to interpret it, who gets to make the call, and what their personal agenda is.

    Unless everyone in the mental health care biz is pro gun.

    There is the curious case of David Sarti, who lost his gun rights in Tennessee, because he told his doctor he would rather be dead than hooked up to a bunch of tubes in a hospital. An off the cuff uppity remark a lot of us might make.

    The doc had him committed for three days, and under Tennessee law, lost his gun rights, even though found perfectly sane.

    The stat of Tennessee promptly put him the the NICS database, and again, although perfectly sane, and never found to be otherwise, can’t buy a gun or hold a carry permit.

    BTW, Sarti appeared on “Doomsday Preppers”

    • Incidents like that are why mental health issues need to be part of the conversation, but also treated wisely, skeptically, and with great restraint to avoid needlessly infringing on the rights of gun owners. It’s a murky, confusing realm, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Acknowledging that and working within that is required for any discussions about mental health to be of any use.

  15. The liberals who comment at the HuffPo are some of the biggest sheeple idiots I have ever come across. They are applauding politicos who are bashing the idea of providing armed security at schools to protect the children and teachers. These people are defensive of the mass media and political elite having armed guards to protect their kids but against having the children of average Americans to receive protection.

    • As long as their kids are protected f@ck the rest of the kids. We’re not important enough and therefore our kids aren’t important enough. That being said it’s sad and ironic that a school of kids unworthy of protecting were gunned down. Please Obama explain why your kids deserve gun wielding guards and the rest of American kids don’t.

  16. Thank you!

    I was diagnosed with depression about 6 years ago; it coincided with some undiagnosed physical problems (turned out I had undiagnosed ulcers and an allergy to peanuts).

    of course I was depressed, I woke up most mornings vomiting from the combination of ulcers and peanuts, and constantly felt like hell from it.

    But anyway, after treatment for both the physical ailments and the mental I’m fine. I’m a productive member of society, I haven’t been on meds for 3 years…and people want to put me on a database and tell me I can’t have a gun…because I was depressed due to having an incredibly painful pair of physical conditions?

    Fuck that with a broken beer bottle.

  17. “Mental illness” is a broad brush to stroke with. It can be used in a myriad of ways to label people and thus deprive them of their civil liberties. Indeed, it will be so used. I see us becoming the Soviet Union, where any dissent from the almighty state was labeled “mental illness” and landed people in the gulag or the horror house of an asylum. Coming soon to the formerly free United States.

    • Very true.

      I really don’t like to (and damn near never) bring up the holocaust in gun debates but with the subject of this thread I must mention that before trainloads of foreign folks were brought in by train the mentally ill were among the very first to be imprisoned, tortured and experimented on by the Germans.

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