Guns and Mental Health

Numbers to chew on in the wake of another school shooting:

  • 70% of all homicides are firearm related.
  • There are about 26% of adults with a diagnosed mental illness.
  • 6% have a “serious mental illness.”
  • Only 3% have a serious mental illness and are not institutionalized.
  • Violence is not even a symptom of something like schizophrenia. Mentally ill people are most likely to harm themselves by an overwhelming margin. Suicide is the most lethal form of violence.

Yes we need better attention to mental health care. But no, this will not make a dent in gun violence. The numbers just don’t support witch hunts for the mentally ill as a solution to gun violence. The beast to slay is looking at how to cut down on homicide in general.

  • Young men between the ages of 25-36 are doing 95% of the killing.
  • 99% of killings occur away from school grounds.
  • American children die from gun inflicted wounds in the US up to 12 times more than in other industrialized nations.
  • The US has the highest child poverty rate among the most industrialized nations.
  • Drugs, poverty, unemployment, race, culture, gender inequality, and weak social systems and support are ALL correlated with different forms of homicide.

None of these data are new!

No folks, more guns won’t solve the problem. Following the example of other nations that seem to have found ways to solve the problem will. Finding ways to reduce economic inequality and poverty are two huge factors to mitigate gun violence. We can also focus on harsher penalties for breaking gun laws if we actually enforce them. But that is a band-aid for a massive social sickness in the US. As we become poorer and more afraid of people taking our liberties and stuff (real or imagined), this violence will continue.

Equality, health, and education can overcome violence.

Those who want more guns on the streets and who are also cutting funds to education are partially responsible for the disproportional rate of homicides by gun violence.

Hiding in Plain Sight: College and the Mentally Ill

Stigma and mental illness

There are students in deep pain and struggling with emotional problems and mental disorders all over college campuses.

Most of us have no clue who they are.

As Kay Redfield Jamison, co-Director of the Mood Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University, recently said to a group of Northwestern University Students:

“No one noticed that I was in any way different,” Jamison said. “I had no idea how I managed to pass as normal in high school, except that other people are generally caught up in their own lives and seldom notice the despair in others if those despairing make an effort to disguise their pain.”

Jamison is not only a leading scholar of mood disorders, she is also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She wrote her story of suffering, recovering, and managing her own illness in the book An Unquiet Mind.

If we sense that something is “wrong” in someone’s behavior, the attitude of the “rugged individual” might take over.

If only that person would just be happier, calm down, keep their mouth shut, stop being so impulsive, stop being so rude, or stop being so quiet and awkward. Mental illness is just a phantom problem. It’s really an issue that the individual must resolve on their own. If people would take more responsibility and just act differently, all would be ok.

A few facts:

  • Public rejection of the mentally ill is far more common than not. Socall & Holtgraves (1992) argued that “a mental illness label, regardless of a person’s behavior, can result in public rejection” (p. 441).
  • Stigmas about mental illness seem to be widely endorsed by the general public in the Western world” (Corrigan & Watson, 2002).
  • A CDC report (2012) found that while most adults believe treatment of mental disorders is effective, less believe that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illness.
  • Coverage of mass shootings and the near immediate link to mental illness do not help public sentiment towards the mentally ill. Rather, in a study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry (McGinty, et. al., 2013), “The stigmatization of people with mental illness may lead to a reluctance to seek treatment or raise other barriers to care” (Barry, 2013).
  • Those with mental illness may internalize public stigma and as a result will be less likely to self-disclose their problems. This is in spite of the growing body of research showing that self-disclosure has positive effects for the mentally ill person and to reduce public stigma (Hyman, 2008).

Disclosing a mental illness is a big risk. If one encounters public stigma about a mental illness the results can damage reputation, employment, friendships, etc. Even if these are not facts, the risk of further alienation is a problem that most of the human race would rather avoid.

For those who aren’t even sure that they have a mental illness but just feel different about the world and their identity, reaching out for help might be compounded by all of these factors. They will go undiagnosed and untreated for illnesses that they have no personal power to manage without help.

When we bring these issues into an environment where often thousands of young adults live, work, and play together it can be a cauldron mixing together a dangerous brew. When we add substance abuse to mental illness the problems worsen. It is then that violence is more likely. More students may bring their drug habits on campuses that started in high school. Add to that fact, 80% of college students will drink and half of those will binge drink.

Students need to feel safe in order to self-disclose that they have either been diagnosed with a mental illness or feel that they might have something wrong. College is a petri dish of social experimentation and dysfunction and mental illness is just not a good fit.

The environment must do a better job of reducing social stigma and giving the mentally ill a safe space. Colleges have made a strong effort to give women and minorities a safe place on campuses, and it is time for them to do the same for those with mental illness if anything is to improve.

Jamison spotlighted Harvard’s improvement in mental health services as an example of the important role universities play in advocating for students.

“I think if (support) does not come from the president’s office, you may as well kiss it goodbye,” Jamison said. “The president’s office has to take this really seriously, and commit money to it, and time.”

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Sources:

Barry, C. (2013). Media coverage of mass shootings contributes to negative attitudes towards mental illness. In Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Retrieved 10/09/2013, from http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2013/webster_mass_shootings_mental_illness.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Association of County Behavioral Health & Developmental Disability Directors, National Institute of Mental Health, The Carter Center Mental Health Program. Attitudes Toward Mental Illness: Results from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Atlanta (GA); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2012.

Corrigan, P., and Watson, A. (2002) Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. February; 1(1): 16–20.

Hyman, I. Self-Disclosure and Its Impact on Individuals Who Receive Mental Health Services. HHS Pub. No. (SMA)-08-4337 Rockville, MD. Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008.

Socall, D., and Holtgraves, T. (1992). Attitudes toward the mentally ill: The effects of label and beliefs. The Sociological Quarterly , Vol. 33, No. 3 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 435-445.

My Education: My First Manic Episode

My first manic episode happened during finals week in the middle of my M.Div. program. I may have slept 10-12 total hours that week. I didn’t know I was manic, I just knew I felt great and was getting a lot of shit done.

One of my buddies down the hall had an espresso machine. A couple of times that week we shared a demitasse or two in the wee hours of the morning. I tried to go to sleep but couldn’t.

Bipolar I types can go so off the rocker that they may be found running through the streets naked, have both auditory and visual hallucinations, and exhibit many signs of paranoid schizophrenia. Then they have a hard and deep crash which is where suicides can occur. If you make it out alive hammered up the scale like the ball of a high striker strong man carnival game only to come down again.

My type, called Type II, is a little less obvious and a little more insidious. My highs could get just high enough that I forgot about sleep, I got hyperfocused, and behaved more like someone with an acute ADHD episode. I’ve had debates about abstract postmodern philosophy while chain-smoking and drinking gin with a touch of tonic. I am not sure what meth is like, but it looked like a scene in Breaking Bad where Badger and Skinny Pete debate critical differences between zombies.

The lows just suck. They last longer and go a tad deeper. On either side of the fence, sleep can help solve a lot of the roller-coaster ride along with an effective medication cocktail.

During my entire experience at Princeton Theological Seminary I had several highs where I studied like a mad man and wrote papers that were much more detailed and researched than they needed to be. I remember writing a paper on St. Augustine’s influence on St. Thomas Aquinas’ understanding of evil. I followed St. Thomas’ doctrine of evil through the entire Summa Theologiae  in a matter of a month. For a 15 page paper, I wrote 30. I took the class pass/fail just so I could go all out. Who does that?

I also wrote a 180 page thesis in a week. I would sit and write up to 30 pages in a day, forget about sleep, skip meals, get jacked on coffee and just work. I would go to my little job sitting at the Continuing Education building and work there too. If that wasn’t enough, I had a few finals to prepare for at the same time. I got it all done, and scored all A’s. The fact that I did all of that makes me anxious and kind of freaks me out a little.

What is most profound is that neither I nor anyone else saw it as strange. My then wife would call me up to remind me to eat. Even in college I would be hyperfocused on something so much, a party that literally happening around me could not distract me. I wore hypomania as a badge of honor, but it would catch up with me one day. I’ll leave that for another story.

If you want to learn more about this illness, this is a nice little article that quotes a very good source from Johns Hopkins University.