No More Massacres

Mental illness stigma favors violence

Posted Dec 20, 2012

New tragedies might continue, but the answer is not only about providing more security to schools, factories, post offices, malls, or colleges…

Guns are usually blamed for the horrific tragedies, but guns do not shoot by themselves. Someone operates them. The problem is not the guns (a recent massacre in China was carried out with knives). Many people have guns and know that they should not kill others.

While guns control is an issue, it is more important to talk about those who carry them.

It is time to look at what mental illness means and what we can do to avoid further tragedy. We all live in a society that requires us to pay attention to our problems, and our present problem is screaming at us to take care of the mentally ill.

We don't know the personal stories of those who have committed massacres and ended their own lives. We cannot interview them or analyze their minds, but we do know that something was wrong in their minds.

Mental illness is an illness like any other that can affect anyone, but not everyone poses a threat to themselves or others. In reality, only a few who are severely mentally ill might pose a threat, and we, as a society, have stigmatized the illness in trying to help them. As a result, we have prevented ourselves from being proactive.

The diagnoses could have included many disorders, including psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, paranoia, intermittent explosive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, or the combination of many disorders. But, what treatment can we provide when many people do not have medical insurance, or most of the insurance does not offer coverage for mental illnesses? County facilities all over the country offer services for the severely mentally ill, but they are still not as comprehensive as necessary. Unfortunately, as we are all trying to survive the financial crisis all over the world, the availability of mental health services are reduced, as though they are a product of luxury.

Mental illness might have biological and genetic underpinnings, and the mentally ill are not to be blamed for being ill, even when we would like to make them responsible for their behaviors. We do not choose our illnesses, they chose us.

While we already have clinical, ethical, and legal standards for those who might become dangerous to themselves or others, it appears necessary to review what we have and offer adequate prevention and early intervention programs. It is time to reevaluate what we have and what we are missing, starting with schools, as mental illnesses may start early in life. However, some conditions present later in adolescence or during adulthood; therefore, mental health practitioners should not only be available in schools, but also within the communities for consultation and early intervention.

Will this solve the problem? Not completely, but at least we can start accepting mental illness and the need for treatment, and request availability of mental health services according to the needs in every community.

About the Author

Ana Nogales, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and well-known media personality, columnist, speaker, and advocate for victims of domestic violence.

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