This morning I read the above article. It’s about a woman whose son is struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness that causes him to occasionally be violent, aggressive and threaten suicide. She is worried that when he grows up, his violent episodes won’t get better and he could become imprisoned. She goes on to talk about the need for increased discussion of mental health in society, particularly in the wake of the Newtown shootings. It’s an interesting article. However, the comments beneath it are upsetting, with some wondering if her being a single parent has caused her son’s problems, others suggesting that his diet and prescribed medications are the problem. One person suggests that to save other people from the possibility of her son committing large scale violence, the next time he threatens to kill himself, let it happen. As I said, upsetting.
The point of this article was to argue for increased discussions of mental health, so that people are more aware of the issues it can cause, how to get treatment and help if it’s needed and to reduce stigma around mental health. These are all positive things. However, I don’t think the reason to have these discussions should be because someone who may have had mental health problems committed an act of large scale violence last week. By having discussions around mental health within the context of the Newtown shooting we are labelling all people with mental health as being capable of that level of violence. Instead of de-stigmatising mental health and creating awareness, framing discussions in this way will only create a fear of people with mental health instead.
Mental health affects 1 in 4 people over the course of their lifetime. That is reason enough to improve access to services and have more open discussions about mental health. This is a large scale issue that will be relevant to everyone through direct experience, or knowing someone who has had these issues. The issue of mass shootings may be related to mental health, however, I cannot say for certain because the information about these events is often based upon speculation from media outlets trying to create a story from limited information. Currently there are a number of reports questioning the possibility of Adam Lanza having an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and if that could have been the reason for his behaviour. None of the reports I have seen that discuss this actually speak to medical or mental health professionals about ASD. Possibly because if they did it would be very clear that this is nothing more than an attempt to sensationalise, or to fit Adam Lanza within the stereotype of “Crazed Killer” to avoid having the larger more complex discussion around the causes of violence. But by associating Adam Lanza and violence with ASD it is only further stigmatising those who live with it, which is the reverse of what those calling for mental health discussions want.
I am all for discussion of mental health within society, how we can improve services, the importance of social support, how talking about it in an honest and open way will only help. I just don’t think these discussions should happen within the context of a mass shooting. Tragedy can be a catalyst for change, however, change will always be more positive and long lasting if it is instigated by recognition of need. We don’t need to talk about mental health because of a mass shooting. We need to talk about mental health because it’s important.