Category Archives: mental illness

Solving Mass Shooting Not Easy

It seems like the gun control parts of any approach to eradicating gun violence would be the most difficult to enact and enforce. However I think we will find the mental health concerns will be much more difficult to address. Individual freedom is something we set great store by in our society. We have always found the idea of any kind of mind control or behavior modification anathema. We are constantly on guard for “Big Brother”. Obviously George Orwell’s book 1984really touches a nerve in us. We may bully people who are “different”, but we will also go to great lengths to defend their right to be an individual. We like to think that we embrace a wide range of behavior as acceptable, even though we don’t.

When it comes to using psychotropic drugs to lull people into mental states that approach “normal” because these drugs deaden unacceptable mental swings or thoughts, we are torn. We like to feel safe from the psychopathic activities of people who experience strange mental aberrations and who sometimes act on them. However, there is a part of us that feels these drugs deaden the human spirit and we understand why people may go off their meds. There is an aspect of mind control involved that makes us nervous. It is difficult to decide sometimes whether someone’s antisocial behavior makes them unique and interesting, although possibly rebellious, or whether such behavior has crossed a line and signals a person who is a danger to themselves or others. We would find a government that issued “happy pills” unacceptable and for good reasons.

When we emptied out our mental institutions we did so for very good reasons. There were so many abuses against mentally ill patients. Patients were subjected to shock therapies, ice baths; they were sometimes beaten or sexually abused; sometimes they were kept so medicated that it would have been impossible for them to participate in any kind of therapy and impossible to see if their behavior was improving. Sometimes their meds killed them. New drugs made it possible to treat people as out-patients. At first drugs were paired with psychotherapy, until it was found that drugs alone could be effective. Now we have seen that these drugs are only effective if people actually take them and we have found few programs that work to ensure that people will consistently take their pills. So we are caught between a rock and hard place. We don’t think institutions work for anything other than to incarcerate the “maddest” among us and we know that just turning everyone out with meds is not making things exactly hunky-dory either. Our mental health professionals work tirelessly, I am sure, to help parents find treatment for their children and to supervise adults who slip through the net with the very large holes in it. However sad they are, homeless people with mental illnesses do not seem to be violent.

The groups we are having most difficulty with are people (and children) who are not usually classified as mentally ill. Adolescents are usually still with their parents. They may have acquired a label in school; ADHD, ADD, autistic. These labels catalog their behavior. If these children happen to be also mentally ill it may be difficult to see given their other issues. Many mental illnesses do not appear until adolescence. By this time parents have learned to protect their children and fight the system on their behalf. Their child’s behavior teaches the parent to leave them to their own devices. Some adult shooters have held jobs and/or have married. Perhaps their extreme behavior was under control until some life event set them off. These are people who target someone like an employee where they worked or their wife, and who often don’t mind some collateral damage. Yes these people may all lack social skills but they are very hard to identify before they “go off”. Our whole love of freedom, and our respect for the individual, which we preach better than practice, works against intervening until these individuals are dangerous.

Enlisting the help of parents will be essential in helping us look for young people who are losing touch with reality and who require professional assistance. I am not even sure that the state of the art treatments in the mental health field have really effective strategies for helping adolescents develop successful social skills, especially children whose mental state may be confounded by other issues like autism. Economic issues probably enter into this also. Getting parents who have decided to opt out of the system to opt back in will take a set of policies with real finesse. We don’t do finesse very well.

This is why we need to look to gun control measures for a while unless we are willing to return to treatments for the mentally ill that are a lot more coercive than what we have in place right now or unless we can create approaches that are much more compelling than what we have now. Overhauling our mental health system is not going to prove an easy task and it may turn out that we still have much to learn about helping people attain and preserve their mental health. Gun laws can be passed right away. We may not be able to enforce gun laws 100% of the time, but we may be able to enforce these laws often enough. Once again, these laws do not have to stay on the books forever. If we collect data and find that they really are not effective these laws can be overturned. We can try a mental health approach along with gun control and we should, but it may not be effective right away.

Taking a Scientific Approach to Mass Shootings

This is America. When we pass a law it does not have to be the law forever. If laws are ineffective they can be overturned later. We have a national problem. Public places in America are being turned into shooting galleries. Twenty beautiful children sitting in their elementary school classrooms were shot to death by either a madman or a poor troubled soul, whichever way you chose to look at it. Teachers and staff who expected an ordinary day of teaching children had to block bullets with their bodies. Isn’t it worth it to pass a few laws that try to address these problems?

It will cause some chaos if we ban assault weapons. People will have to part with treasured guns, they will have to tamp down fears that the American government will become tyrannical, and they may have to pursue a hobby they enjoy with slightly less freedom. Perhaps shooting clubs could store people’s assault rifles in locked spaces. There must be a solution that will allow people to possess their rifles without keeping them in their homes.

I also get the argument the NRA makes that criminals do not get guns through legal channels. I feel their fear that honest Americans without guns will be at the mercy of criminals with guns. Of course, I feel I must point out that we already are in that situation. I feel that I must also point out that on this point gun owners are exaggerating their feelings to spin their argument. They will still have handguns with which to defend themselves after all. And the longer a ban on assault rifles and multiple shot clips goes on the harder it will be for even criminals to access these weapons. Every time one is used in a crime it will. I assume, be taken off the streets and out of circulation.

Let’s talk about TV, movies and video games for a minute. If we are talking about children with good social skills these activities probably don’t lead to violent fantasies or scripts. These reality-based children understand that they are watching TV, or viewing a movie, or playing a game. But for children with poor social skills, children whose self esteem may be low, children who may feel frustrated and angry much of the time video games especially, may be the movie they run in their head when they are angry. I don’t mean to be flippant about this very serious issue, but it is sort of like when Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theorytries to blow people up with his mind. I don’t think these children, who can get a large ego boost from high scores in a game where they shoot imaginary people, are putting their anger into a red balloon and floating it away. I’m guessing that they imagine picking people off when they get angry. Teaching them to shoot a real gun with this particular movie script running in their heads when they are at their most irrational could not be a good thing.

We have to try something. Let’s try an assault gun ban again. Let’s try getting rid of most multiple clips. Let’s try it for five years or ten years. Let’s keep data on it to determine if it makes a difference. If studies done by neutral groups show no significant effect then we can overturn the laws. Let’s try throwing some more money at mental health issues and let the mental health community tell us what they believe we should try to be able to identify shooters before they go ballistic and how we can do this without stigmatizing those who know how to keep their mental issues under control and who consistently use those therapies. Again we can consider it a social experiment in which we study and tweak the approaches until they are effective at identifying those who need help and are not getting it, or until we determine that we will never be able to filter out individuals who might plot some kind of personal vengeance. We can even try armed guards at schools to see it that helps.

It is sad to see some of the nation’s gun owners acting just like these socially challenged shooters, with their threatening language and their fearful beliefs. They seem irrational and paranoid. These are adult Americans. They should be in a partnership with all of America to see if we can find a solution to this modern aberration; a solution that does not just involve arming America to the teeth. They should be honestly trying to study this along with us to see what will work. This would be the logical path to helping all Americans be more comfortable with legal gun owners. We are already beset by craziness. We need our adults, gun owners or not, to act very, very sane.

Pass the gun laws. Make sure we study the effects of the gun laws. Pass the mental health measure. Make sure we understand the strategies the mental health industry will employ and that we study their effects also. Let’s try to identify children who lack social skills. Let’s try to find out why they are missing these skills. Let’s develop strategies to help children improve their social skills. If parents are over-protective of children with mental or social difficulties let’s develop strategies for intervention. Let’s please try these measures for a time, discard them if they don’t work, and try new measures until we get it right. And let’s come up with some creative video games that offer the same ego boost as shooting games but have a more positive goal than racking up body counts.

We Need a New Approach to Mental Illness

The NRA is so powerful that we cannot approach this trend of theatrical crimes (no pun intended) against unarmed and helpless groups by restricting access to guns, even though these guns are being used against people who are captive in the sense that they are collected in a certain public environment at the moment the horrible drama is enacted. There can be little doubt that to certain people in our culture these criminals become heroes so that these murderers are, in a sense, competing with each other to “make a better movie”. I wish we weren’t quite so free with our guns, but we will not be allowed to solve this situation from a gun control angle.
In many science fiction books authors describe a future when we no longer meet in public spaces; we live in small cells with our technology and communicate only through electronics. This may evolve through a fear of contagious diseases, or because a totalitarian state wants to hold on to control and prevent revolution or because people lose their desire to communicate face to face. Well the kinds of violent ‘deathcraft’ undertaken lately on too many occasions (since one is too many) are just the ticket to make a future of isolation seem attractive. If we want to maintain a society that includes enjoying entertainment in person at public venues we need to approach this problem somehow.
As far as I can remember, every one of these “death eaters” who survived and was taken into custody has been shown to be in a state of mental disorder or to have a mental illness. What we need to do, so that we are not constantly grieving and constantly fearful, is to take a new look at how we are treating the matter of mental illness in America these days. Obviously, in these enlightened times, we cannot return to the days when we put everyone in a mental institution for warehousing and possible treatment. But neither should we just be turning people out on the streets with a handful of psychotropic drugs when they have symptoms that will derail their lives and possibly the lives of others if they do not stay on their meds. These meds are not perfect. They have unpleasant side effects, often dampening the ability to experience a range of emotions, and sometimes other physical side effects. Many people with a mental illness may not be responsible enough to take their meds and to keep taking them day in and day out.
We do need a way to remove mentally ill people from the public arena when they prove they will not and cannot take their medications. We do need to work harder to identify mentally ill people who are flying under the radar and to decide if the particular type and degree of mental illness they manifest could be a danger. I am not at all sure how we will accomplish this in a society that reveres freedom. Does safety trump freedom? The parents of this most recent ‘player of reality death games’ apparently knew their son had mental problems. Somewhere between the two extremes of institutionalization and sending mentally ill people off into the streets with a gentle push, there lies a better approach to mental illness in America. Perhaps the experts can convene a conference to look at this subject and send some proposals our way that might help us deal with mentally ill people who will not get treatment or stay on their medications. We have spent way too many days watching the sad outcomes of these terrible attacks in the past decade or two.