Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guns, Violence & Mental Illness--Why Don't They Go Together?

Photo by Michelle Hebert Fashion
Unkempt. Smelly. Homeless. Impulsive. Mumbling and reciting Biblical verses aloud in public places-- all describes some of the things we believe and see about people with severe mental illness. But there's more and if given the time and space you could say what more you know about this. However, my purpose here is not to degrade or demean anyone who is suffering from mental illness but rather to expand the reality of what mental illness looks like.

Everyday in my interactions with ordinary people I talk about mental illness. I hear all sorts of myths people have about what mental illness is and what it is not. With the most weight given to what they think it is not. Why would we think mental illness is not the face of a #CEO of a multi-million or billion dollar business? Why would we think it's not the professional woman who dresses in her Donna Karan suit wearing her walking shoes headed to the office everyday? Or why wouldn't it be that child in your #Kindergartner's class? Why--because that would be harder to imagine. Why--because we typically think of "them" as the way I first described in the beginning and not the "us" we consider ourselves, separate, as. I can envision right now how many would say, "no, I don't think of the mentally ill that way. I know some people with mental illness"---of course you do but more often it's the people with the noticeably unusual behaviors like odd speech or dress or withdrawn personalities or lower IQ that we recognize as being "sick."

But with mental illness, as with any illness, the face of it comes in many forms and many many people don't look as much like the people on the streets as the ones sitting at your dining room table. Even more young people look like Adam Lanza and other kids who may have mental illness that's untreated, possibly running in their families and access to weapons around them. Why would mental illness and violence not seem like a likely combination?---because we're afraid of how many more people we may know with burgeoning rage who might fall in the same category as any other violent perpetrator who suffers from psychosis and underlying rage. Where do you think 1/3 of the prison population comes from?---from homes, shelters and other places where their mental illness went untreated. It's no longer "them" and "us" it's more like "we" and "us."

Asha, Licensed Mental Health Specialist

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