A week ago it was Planned Parenthood in Colorado. Yesterday it was San Bernardino. We’ve officially had more shootings than we’ve had days in the year, essentially equating to multiple shootings per day. It seems to be an endless cycle: media coverage, people propose solutions, victims are in everyone’s “thoughts and prayers” and then it ceases..until another mass shooting catches CNN’s attention.
And in between that time, Twitter explodes, people post those viral Facebook posts, and Congress passes nothing. Most of them concern gun control laws, many offering condolences, a few criticize media coverage. Policy solutions are proposed by celebrities: stricter gun control laws, background checks, the usual.
And mental health inevitably enters the conversation. Donald Trump deemed the Planned Parenthood shooter a “maniac”. Paul Ryan suggested improving the mental health system to address the recent “tragedies” Legislation is proposed to encourage mental-illness based background checks , just like Amy Shumer did this summer. In their defense, it’s a convenient excuse—why else would people want to kill each other? Yet according to multiple studies 1, 2, 3, mental illnesses (ranging from schizophrenia to depression) were insignificant factors in determining propensity toward violence. On the other hand, other co-variants such as race and gender play a more crucial role in establishing a causal association with violence. Yet few speak up about how mental health is scapegoated as a cause of violence.
The worst part of this whole ordeal? No, it’s not the fact that a therapy visit could ruin your rights to buy a gun. Stereotypes such as these are precisely the reason why a mental health stigma exists. This is why teenagers are afraid to go to their school counselors, this is why despite resources, getting treatment is a convoluted mess. The fear of being perceived as “violent”, the fear of eventually losing employment or other rights due to a psychiatrist record on your health record (a HIPAA violation).
So how do we shift this? Simple steps include not coining the perpetrator in acts of violence as “crazy” or “depressed.” Our mental health services do not cause shootings—those are results of our culture. Also be mindful that mental illness is not synonymous with depression or PTSD (you wouldn’t use the phrase “physical illness” to describe both cancer and diabetes would you?). Lastly, make mental health an open topic of discussion. The more often these conversations happen, the easier it is to pave the way for chance.
But also acknowledge hate crimes as hate crimes. A culture that perpetuates entitlement over women causes a shooting near a UC. A culture that mischaracterizes a non-profit as “selling body parts” results in a shooting. Not a mental illness.