In the United States in the past week we have been shocked and devastated by public shootings. First in Oregon at Clackamas Town Center, then in Connecticut at an elementary school and then in Las Vegas at a hotel. Most people, myself included, are horrified at the violence. Naturally, we now all seem to be debating about how to prevent these senseless acts. Some people latch onto gun control, some people latch onto our violently oriented culture, and some people latch onto mental illness as an issue. I honestly don’t know that there are any answers or actions that society can make as a whole to prevent things like this happening in the future, but this bit of rant is not about answers exactly. What I want to talk about is what is NOT the answer.
What is NOT the answer is scapegoating any one group of people. From my perspective as a person living with mental illness, I am (of course) sensitive to people ranting about how the mentally ill should be locked up or about how all of the shooters must have been mentally ill. Honestly, we don’t know enough about the situations or people to comment. What I have to say time and time again is that statistics bear out the fact that mentally ill people are generally not violent and are, in fact, more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators of violent crime. People with mental illness are often more of a threat to themselves than to anyone else. Even if all of the shooters turn out to be mentally ill, that does not mean that all people with mental illness are violent. We can note also that all of the shooters were male, but that doesn’t mean that all men are violent and that all men should be locked away from society or have their rights stripped.
It is distressing to me that so often the conversation will turn into attacks on mentally ill people aka “the crazies” and how to keep them away from “the rest of us.” There are literally millions (or more) people living with mental illness who never harm anyone. If someone is violent AND mentally ill, that does not mean they are violent BECAUSE they are mentally ill. They are violent, because they are violent. We should focus our energies on how to make the world a less violent one with people who are less violent, not perpetuate stereotypes and attack other humans who have done nothing wrong.