You know when you’d like to agree with someone but you don’t?
This is how I felt after reading Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz’s opinion piece on the Guardian regarding mass shootings and how mental health issues are being used as a scapegoat. He also refers how mental health issues are presented in his native Australia and in broadcasts regarding American school shootings.
Then he goes on to refer to several subjects relating to mental health, including homelessness and lack of psych beds. I agree with a lot of his thoughts, such as there is a desperate need for more treatment. I just get uncomfortable when a plethora of subjects get written about in a single column, as it poses a danger that not a single one of them gets the detailed overview they deserve.
Nothing in this world happens just for one reason. The same with school shootings. Blaming mental health issues only is wrong but ignoring them isn’t right either.
It’s brilliant that mental health is starting to have a community around it, which enables open discussion. What isn’t going to help this community is to start policing what you’re allowed to say.
Every person is unique, just like their mental health. Some people, like me, are only dangerous to themselves. Some people with mental illness act in a violent manner towards others. It’s not an excuse, neither is this behaviour likely linked solely on mental health issues but ignoring this isn’t going to help anybody.
Besides, Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since 1996. How would they know?
I can tell you, you’re pretty compelled to start looking at any reason possible when one of your own does something like this.
Finland, my birth country, has had two major recent school shootings. The first one was on 7th of November 2007. The shooter, Pekka Eric Auvinen, killed eight people and wounded one before shooting himself.
You don’t need to look for mental health being mentioned for long when you look up information about this event that changed Finland’s recent history forever. Between December 2006 and January 2007, Auvinen’s parents tried to get him referred to a psychiatric outpatient clinic for his depression and anxiety, but the offer was refused due to his perceived mild symptoms.
As a side note, I’ve already told about Finland’s lack of care in mental health in ‘The girl who could’ve been me.’ A young woman was murdered because one man didn’t get the help he desperately needed. Saying that mentioning mental health problems when discussing violent behaviour is wrong is an insult to this girl’s memory.
In Auvinen’s case, treatment using antidepressants was recommended before any attempts to hospitalise him. He had irregularly taken SSRIs one year prior to his death. Ask any mental health professional. Irregular medication is a risk.
“You can see perfect examples of this monstrous trope after the recent school shooting in the USA. Instead of blaming the guns, people started blaming the psychiatric medications that the shooter was reported to have been taking. It is a common refrain – “Mass shooters are just mentally ill! What this murderous rampage really means is that we need to do more for mental health,” writes Meyerowitz-Katz.
“Never mind that the rest of the world prescribes these same drugs and somehow avoids children being regularly shot at school.”
Blaming only the guns is just as bad as blaming mental health difficulties only. If I was a smartarse, which I am, I would say that there are millions of gun owners in the world who are not shooting children either. My dad used to own seven different guns because his family would hunt regularly, and he never used any of them on a person. And I’m not even pro-gun.
Just because someone disagrees with me doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Put a person experiencing mental duress together with a gun and then we have a problem. Nothing is black and white.
It’s like mental health version of ‘not all men.’
Not all men. But some men still do.
Another school shooting followed almost a year later on 23rd of September 2008. Matti Juhani Saari shot and killed ten people at his school. He too had been prescribed an SSRI and another medication for anxiety attacks.
Saying that a medication caused either of these people to do this would be wrong. To completely ignore the fact that both perpetrators had been experiencing mental health difficulties to the extent that medical assistance had been sought before committing these acts would be equally wrong. Both of these people were also permitted to carry a gun.
“Never mind that the evidence clearly demonstrates that people with mental illnesses are far more likely to hurt themselves than others.
“Never mind that this paints a story of murder and mayhem that is no more than wild supposition.
“We hate, we fear, we stop caring.
“And people die.”
It’s. Not. That. Simple.
I have been so unwell that I’ve wanted to die, and my perception of things was definitely compromised. As terrifying the prospect is, I can still understand how things could possibly take another route, how you feel so unwell that you don’t either care if someone else gets hurt in the process or that you’d wish to hurt someone. Remember, you’re not thinking clearly when you’re in distress. It’s a reason but not an excuse.
I don’t claim that this was the case with either of the aforementioned young men, but both of them clearly had been experiencing ill mental health. It would be irresponsible to ignore it.
In 2016, a woman was arrested for planning a school shooting. One of her biggest motivations was her ‘love’ towards the first school shooter, Pekka Eric Auvinen, whom she never met when he was alive. Still she thought that they were dating.
Among other things she had an altar dedicated to him in her room, sacrificed her own blood on Auvinen’s grave, carried a bag of dirt from his grave in her bra, thought that she was going to kill people as ‘presents’ to him and that after killing herself she would be united with him in ‘paradise.’ She was later sent to a high security mental health hospital.
Is it politically incorrect to say that mental illness might have played a part here?
I’m sure it is less likely than wanting to hurt yourself. But which one is more important, not offending anyone or making sure that nobody dies?
Had this woman been brought to Meyerowitz-Katz, would he still think the same?
It’s just like getting ill. It could really happen to anyone. I met this lady at the ward. She was very sweet and soft-spoken, with a history of self-destructive behaviour. At her worst times she’d hear voices which would tell her to hurt herself, but then the voices took a turn. They started telling her to kill her mum. She had become so concerned that she had admitted herself to hospital, terrified of what she might do.
We can’t draw such drastic conclusions as ‘mental illness causes people to kill.’ Still, burying your head in the sand and saying ‘mental health has nothing to do with violent behaviour’ isn’t going to help anyone either. There is no one size fits all-solution when it comes to mental health in any regard whatsoever because everyone is unique. That’s why some people have to go through several antidepressants, for example.
The moment we start using blanket thinking we are only contributing to further stigma around mental health instead of removing it.
Read the original column here: