Mental Illness & the Tucson Shooting
I watched Jon Stewart deliver his scriptless take on the Tucson shooting (see below), nodding my head in agreement. But my friend Pat stood up and walked out of her living room.
Why? Pat’s mom suffered from a mental illness and she can’t stand how loosely terms like “crazy,” “nutjob,” and “loon” are being thrown around to describe the shooter. Yes the Tucson shooting is a monumental tragedy, but what if the first tragedy was that Jared Loughner didn’t receive the help he should have? Few people are talking about that.
Pat wrote a wonderful editorial title “Get educated about mental Illness” for the Muncie Star Press that has made me look at this tragedy in a whole new way. Here’s an excerpt:
I know we are all appalled and frightened by the Tucson tragedy, but the majority of those who are mentally ill do not commit violence. The mentally ill and their families fight a daily struggle against stigma and system failure that makes it difficult to get the help needed and to rejoin society.
Name calling serves no purpose. It is not true, as we learned as children, that sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me. They hurt.
Mental illness is difficult to understand and before passing judgment, learn about it. Get to know someone who suffers from it. Be a support for their family. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has a superb website, www.nami.org, that offers information on all the major mental illnesses, including autism spectrum disorders.
Pat is on the local board of NAMI, an organization of which, Pat points out, Rep. Giffords was a big supporter.
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True. I have a friend who has a son with schizophrenia. I’ve seen his struggle through her. When I heard the insight Jon Stewart had about how this was NOT a political situation; it did not need to divide our country, I was ecstatic. I weeded out the word crazy the way I weeded out his bleeps. I don’t talk like that. And won’t. However, sensitivity can always go deeper. And must. Perhaps this picture of this troubled young man should be taken down. It incites.
It is questionable whether the attack might have been prevented but I think schools should instigate some measures to recognize mental issues among students and faculty. There should also be a lot more attention paid to deal with disorderly students that disrupt a class.
I applaud Pat for those insights. Most people with mental health issues and diagnoses are more likely to be victims of bullying (children with autism, for instance) and violence than perpetrate it. I also am concerned how the mental illness explanation is used to detach the individual and his or her actions from the larger social network, thus providing ‘society’ a free pass to continue to influence the culture with violent messages in everything from toys to mass media. As though he or she is either 1. influenced by social conditioning OR 2. influenced by mental illness. In fact, mentally ill or not, people are still influenced by society and culture, and in turn influence these.
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