Unfortunately there were two additional mass shootings – El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH – two weeks ago. These shootings are becoming much more common, and this is a tragedy. An additional tragedy is when the media and others begin to point the finger at mental illness as the blame. This needs to stop immediately! The stigmatization cast upon mental illness already complicates a difficult situation.
Mental illness is seen as an easy scapegoat for any mass shooting that takes place. Why is that? Do the media and others really need to cast the blame on those dealing with mental illness? I am not suggesting I have the answers to the source of the problem with mass shootings, but I do not believe mental illness is the issue. According to an article in USA Today, the FBI conducted a study and reached the same conclusion: “… all active shooters are mentally ill is both “misleading and unhelpful.” The implication of these shootings being committed by individuals dealing with mental illness implies they are violent and need to be isolated from society, which only complicates the situation. Rather than blaming an easy target – persons with mental illness – let’s really research the issue and find out the aggravating circumstances leading to this epidemic of mass shootings.
Imagine the difference we could make as a society, if we took a moment and recognized the seriousness of mental illness. Many of us, at some point in our lives, will deal with mental illness either ourselves or someone we know. I have personally dealt with depression, which pushed me to contemplate suicide at one point. The reason I did not talk about it with others is because of the stigmatization placed on the phrase “mental illness,” which is someone dangerous or violent. Rather than talk about it, I withdrew from the world and did not seek help. Why? I resented the implications of me being dangerous to others. I was not dangerous, I was in a vulnerable space in life, needing help…desperately. The result of society’s reluctance to acknowledge mental illness is the choice of persons with mental illness withdrawing from society and trying to deal with their issues alone. Instead, we need to allow space for people to be vulnerable so they may have the courage to seek help. The result of society’s attitude towards mental illness is this implication that mental illness is an indicator of violence and the person will become a shooter and be responsible for the death of many.
Instead of throwing out accusations that “mass shootings are the doings of those with mental illness”, let us consider creating spaces for people with mental illness to get help. One of those places should be faith communities. A person with mental illness needing help should be able to confidently reach out to their local faith communities to receive guidance on receiving help. I am not suggesting pastors or church staff members are responsible for providing care for those with mental illness, but pastors and church staff should have resources to provide help. This would provide a safe place for the person with mental illness to turn and receive guidance and more importantly, support for their courage to seek out help. At the moment, this is not the norm in most circumstances. Instead, the person with mental illness fearing the stigmatization of being seen as violent would rather not seek help at all. This is not a good outcome for the person with mental illness because mental illness a disability. The lack of empathy and care for the mental illness population leads to these individuals choosing not to get much needed care and being pushed further into the margins.
My hope is when the next mass shooting occurs, the media and others will not be so quick to blame mental illness. As an alternative, let us consider becoming a society where those with mental illness are welcomed into spaces so they may receive the care and support they urgently need. We can begin by not treating this community as the scapegoat for violent behavior and mass shootings. Who knows? One day the person needing help could be you.