Saturday, October 10, 2015

Stunning? I'd say so!





Top Psychiatrist’s Stunning Announcement About Gun Violence


By PAULA J. CAPLAN, PHD
Featured Blogs October 9, 2015

After each highly publicized gun violence incident, some lawmakers—whether with good intention, for political gain, or both—declare that we must have laws to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness. It is therefore stunning and profoundly important to note Sunday's blog post from the American Psychiatric Association's president, Dr. Renee Binder.

As chief executive of the major lobby group that advocates for the interests of psychiatrists, Binder might have been expected to recommend an increase in psychiatric treatment for the mentally ill as a way to reduce gun violence. Amazingly, she not only did not make that recommendation, but she made the powerful—and well-documented—statement that people diagnosed with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it and that most of the mentally ill will never commit acts of violence against others. Thus, to pass laws to prevent the mentally ill from owning guns is no way to reduce the frequency of murders. In fact, as Binder pointed out, "Stronger indicators of risk include a history of violent behavior, domestic violence, and drug or alcohol abuse."






Politicians on the Sunday morning news shows either failed to read Binder's essay or chose to ignore it and plowed right ahead, pushing for gun laws about the mentally ill. And on Monday morning, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy appeared on CBS, making an impassioned plea to prevent the mentally ill from owning guns and making the bold—and unfounded—assertion that that such a step would have prevented the most recent mass shooting. It will be worth watching to see if over time, Binder's strong statement alters politicians' proposals. Today, Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson made a similar plea.

Two important points shed further light on this matter. One arises from the fact that the primary way that "the mentally ill" are identified is by having been given psychiatric diagnoses, but a vast body of work over three decades has revealed psychiatric diagnostic categories to be constructed and applied with little or no scientific support, so attempts to divide the populace into "the mentally ill" and "everyone else"—and aim to pass laws affecting the former—make no sense.






The other relevant point is that the ballooning numbers of categories and subcategories that are called mental illnesses has led to the psychiatrizing of our society, the tendency of therapists, media people, the public, even some novelists to try to explain every aspect of human behavior as caused by a mental illness. This often takes the form of, "Person X did Y, and the fact that they did Y proves that they are mentally ill, because Y (almost any action or expression) is a mental illness." Defense attorneys operating in a system that is often stacked against the accused, especially if the latter are poor or women or people of color, understandably try to get their clients diagnosed as mentally ill, hoping to argue that the psychiatric disorder is reason for a reduced sentence. As a result, a confounding factor we will increasingly need to consider is that an artificially created correlation between a diagnosis of mental illness and commission of a violent act will result, as anyone charged with an act of violence is increasingly likely to be labeled mentally ill. As that happens, it will unjustifiably become ammunition for those who want to base laws on the notion that "the mentally ill" are more dangerous than the rest of the populace.






POST-BLOG THOUGHTS. I've added a couple of things that might be relevant. Below is one of those cut-and-paste Facebook messages about depression, which are, I guess, better than nothing - but not much. They strike me as paper doll or cookie-cutter responses, don't cost anything, and can give you a false sense of having done your bit (so you can wash your hands of it all). 

These are posted for just one hour, then, I assume, taken down - but why? Why is it considered so dangerous for people to leave a post about depression on their page? Why the necessity of reassuring people with statements like "I did it for a friend and you can too" (which smacks of "well, my friend has this problem. . . )? The whole post seems to be saying, "it's OK to display a message about this completely taboo topic, because no one will ever know".





For many people, even mentioning the subject to offer "a moment of support" is just too great a risk, likely because they fear being exposed as a sympathizer. "If I don't see your name, I'll understand" is a very sad statement: I know you can't risk mentioning your name, because people might think you're "one of them". As I've said before, and I will keep on saying it, mental health issues are where gay issues were in 1970, and cancer issues in 1950. 

I have some things to say about all this (as usual). Below the Facebook quote and my response to it, I've posted a link to something you really need to see, if this subject interests you at all. (Please note: this is what you should NOT wear as a Halloween costume.)






Facebook cut-'n-paste message:

Yes depression is such a bitch and seems relentless. A lot of us have been close to that  edge, and some have lost friends and loved ones. Let's look out for each other and stop sweeping mental illness under the rug. If I don't see your name, I'll understand. May I ask my family and friends wherever you might be, to kindly copy and paste this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. Hope to see this on the walls of all my family and friends just for moral support. I know some will!!! I did it for a friend and you can too. You have to copy and paste this one, no sharing.

My response to these one-hour-long, "if I don't see your name" messages of support: 


We're starting to see more about depression on Facebook these days, and people are pasting and sharing and doing all manner of things. But do you know what might do even more to help the cause? If you know of someone who is off work with depression, don't avoid them or pretend it isn't happening. Ask them if they're up to a visit at home or in the hospital, and go see them and bring flowers or something else they might like. Depression is disabling and hurts far worse than a heart attack or a broken bone, but there are virtually no flowers sent to psychiatric wards. People's aversion runs very deep. Let's get over it, shall we? THAT would be really helpful.

2 comments:

  1. Hi! I've reposted on FB the drawing about mental illness, and linked to the article. I love your blog, but this time it really struck home. I suffer from generalized anxiety and depression and I've heard a thousand times the phrase "snap out of it". I live in a tiny country where familiar or neighbourly shootings happen continuously, and I often wonder: if the person involved had a history of mental illness, why wasn't he cured? and instead we have the neighbours saying "Oh, he was such a good guy..." PLEASE. Nobody noticed the signs? /rant over/ Yeah, I really love your blog!!!

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  2. Thank you so much. This is a topic I come around to on a continuing basis because it has affected my family from my birth onward. I lost a brother to schizophrenia when he was forced to live a dangerous, hand-to-mouth lifestyle and ended up dying in a fire. There is a dawning awareness of mental health issues now, but isn't it about time? Why is there so much self-congratulations about it? We are supposed to copy and paste "supportive" posts on Facebook to raise awareness of depression, but then I suspect people say something like, "there, I've done my bit", and they haven't. The whole topic makes people profoundly uncomfortable. I recently posted Amazon's ad for "mental patient" Halloween costumes, which speaks volumes for the combination of ridicule and fear that the culture feels. Mental health as a topic reminds me of gay issues in 1970: still a fearful, alien subject, in spite of the fact that it has always been part of the human condition. But all we can do is keep living as well as we can, and speaking out. I really appreciate your comments - keep on with the struggle, because each good day makes it worthwhile, and each not-so-good day is another kind of victory.

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