Monday, December 17, 2012


As a way of avoiding talking about guns and gun control, there has been quite a bit of attention paid to yet another American scandal - our woefully underfunded mental health treatment and support systems.  The general line of argument, repeated with neither thought nor empathy, runs something like this: Only someone with something very wrong, mentally, would go on a shooting spree that purposefully targeted children.  Thus, the shooter was crazy/mentally ill.  If we were more aware/paid more attention to/properly funded mental health screening and treatment, perhaps this event could have been avoided.

As far as logic goes, there is a certain soundness to it.  Alas, like many logical sequences, however, it bears little resemblance to any reality, most especially the one in which we live.

Which is not to say that mental health is either understood or treatment fully funded.  On the contrary.

Rather, the major premise - Adam Lanza was mentally ill - is not only not a given, it shouldn't be assumed.  There are varieties of mental illness that could, I suppose lead one suffering from them to acts of violence.  The reality, however, as this post as Feministe reminds us, is the exact opposite: Persons with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence.

People with mental illness suffer enough stigma without bearing the brunt of our society's fears.  Fully-funding mental health programs is a worthy goal in and for itself.  Running around insisting people who are diagnosed with a mental illness pose a threat to others in society does nothing to help them, and much to hurt them, as well as their families and loved ones.

All the talk about funding mental health programs that are following in the wake of the Newtown shooting are as much a red herring as anything else that distracts from the singular reality that we have far too many guns, and far too easy access to them.  Which is not to say that we should not fund mental health programs.  We should.  We should do it, however, without fearing those we are treating.  The mentally ill are not dangerous. They are hurting and in need of help.

Virtual Tin Cup

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