I grew up with a psychologist for a father. From a very early age, we heard stories about mental illness and substance abuse (the overlapping occurrence of which was his specialty) at the dinner table.
We learned early on to think about mental health treatment as a toolbox, a long list of therapies, programs, medications, incentives, and support mechanisms that seeks to ease the burden of mental illness even when it can’t eradicate it. Psychology and psychiatry were never viewed as magic pills or a perfect solutions, only as the best bets for improving the quality of life of people who were suffering.
In the wake of James Holmes’ killing spree in Aurora, I saw this cartoon, and I thought about my dad. He has worked with many violent people over the years. People who made threats to themselves, their families, even to their therapists.
Mentally stable people don’t murder a dozen movie-goers. That seems obvious, but much of the post-Aurora conversation has been centered around gun control and how Holmes’ crimes could have been prevented with better gun laws.
I do absolutely believe in restricting gun access in about a zillion different ways, but we’re deluding ourselves if we think that the James Holmeses of the world wouldn’t find other ways to carry out their plans. Gun control is addressing one very small slice of the problem, a problem whose roots, in my opinion, begin with mental health.
And David Brooks agrees with me, so I must be on the right track:
Looking at guns, looking at video games — that’s starting from the wrong perspective. People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders. The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too.
Yes, we need to limit guns. Yes, we need to make it as hard as possible for the wrong people to get them. But much like getting guns of the streets of Chicago doesn’t solve deeply ingrained sociological inequalities, limiting gun access doesn’t undo years of untreated mental illness and psychological distress. If we believe that healthy, stable people with options don’t seek to commit violence (which I do), the we have to be addressing the causes of instability, not the tools with which people express their outrage and frustration.
Related Post: How I defunkify myself when I’m feeling funky.
Related Post: My thoughts on some of Chicago’s violence issues.