Largely without a voice in the corridors of power across the nation’s legislative institutions, America’s ‘mentally ill’ have become a focal point in an attempt to make sense of some of the violent acts that have been perpetrated over the last few years. Most recently, the letters believed to be covered with ricin sent to the White House, a judge in Tupelo, Miss., and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss), are believed the be the actions of a “mentally ill” man who’s “paranoid and thinks people are out to get him” when not on his medication.
But studies ranging back decades clearly show that mental illness is no more an indicator of conducting a violent act than not having a mental illness. For a host of reasons, however, the media and the public’s attention is all too often focused on this group of individuals as the scourge that has wrested away the relative peace that had heretofore been perceptibly known. That is, the mentally ill have become a scapegoat, the easy target, for some of our society’s deeper problems.
For me, this issue is personal. A number of individuals in my family as well as a number of friends have ‘mental illnesses’ and I suspect a number of Blue Virginia readers also know someone with a mental illness too (who doesn’t these days!?). These individuals are, on the whole, some of the kindest, most virtuous, and big-hearted individuals I have ever known. They are, in other words, great people, and not one medical relapse away from acting out in a manner harmful to others or themselves.
In the wake of the Newtown killings, the legislation on mental illness that followed [with the support of groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA)] was a clear sign of the direction that a number of America’s legislators are ready to go down for the sake of political expediency, face-saving action, and a feel-good legislative bandage that will almost certainly do more good than harm. The NRA, in particular, seized on the idea that ‘it’s not the guns that kill’, it’s the individual (the mentally ill individual).
The cosmic irony is, of course, that groups like the NRA, continue to sell, without abandon, their killing machines while living, breathing, sentient beings are set one step closer to an insurmountable stigma in our country. Mental illness is not the problem, however.
The problem is a society that doesn’t know how to take a collective step back and search dispassionately for a deeper cause of actions like the Newtown killings. We react to the tune of special interests, and in so doing, we create far more problems than we had before while subsequently burdening further the lives of those individuals whose political voices cannot be heard over the blaring gun shots of the NRA and other powerful special interests.