Context, Context, Context

In the wake of the Newton tragedy, a particular blog post has gone viral. You’ve likely heard of it–“I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”. This article is powerful, and should prompt us to look at the mental health system in the USA–which somehow manages to be even more broken than the rest of the healthcare system–to make sure that people get the help they need.


Timing is a major factor in why I have a problem with this post, with the other main one being that the writer makes a direct comparison between her son and the Newton shooter. After any story like this breaks, certain narratives automatically unfurl in such a routine manner that they’re hardly worth following anymore. One of them is always about mental illness and finding ways to prevent people with mental health conditions from violent behaviour. This narrative is so, so often oversimplified, and while certain conditions do have a propensity towards violent acts, most don’t–especially not of the calculated type seen in mass shootings–and the broad-brush way that we talk about mental health winds up giving the impression that anyone who is mentally ill has a higher chance of being violent, which is far from the case. When specific diagnoses get thrown out, they’re usually the ones that happen to be talked about most often, throwing undeserved stigma onto them, and so often the people doing the talking clearly have no idea what those conditions entail. Autism is one that gets a lot of flak these days, because autistics tend to be outsiders to society and are often thought to lack empathy for other people, but it is not a condition that includes violent tendencies (outside of meltdowns, which are a much different animal than what people are actually talking about) and I suspect the legalistic mindset would hinder autistics from behaving in these ways.

The Long article far from helps our cause right now (especially since she can’t tie her son’s behaviour to a specific diagnosis, so he can only be described as ‘mentally ill’). It is part of the narrative that passes as a ‘conversation about mental health’ in this country, a looming monolith that casts a dark shadow over the significant portion of the population that has a mental health condition. It does not foster the understanding we need, just the stigma that we don’t. It furthers the idea that all mass killers must be mentally ill, a simplified hand-waving of the things that actually lead to these events that stops most of us from ever really understanding the question that’s being asked. The question is–how do we stop these things from happening? And while better mental healthcare is something that needs to be addressed, for it’s own sake, we’re too busy talking about what is/was obviously ‘wrong’ with the killer to ever actually get around to doing anything.


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