I have no special knowledge about what happened in Orlando this past weekend in which 50 innocent people were murdered and a greater number wounded. It is unimaginably horrific. There are no words.
I do not in any way mean to suggest that the Orlando killer was mentally ill. This may have been just an act of evil.
The subject of severe mental illness and violence is a perennial one. ACT clinicians know some of the issues, which are complex. Consider reading Metzl and MacLeish’s Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms in the American Journal of Public Health (2015 February). The authors review the literature and
“critically addressed 4 central assumptions that frequently arise in the aftermath of mass shootings:
(1) Mental illness causes gun violence,
(2) Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens,
(3) US mass shootings teach us to fear mentally ill loners, and
(4) Because of the complex psychiatric histories of mass shooters, gun control “won’t prevent” another Tucson, Aurora, or Newtown.”
The authors note that “… in the real world, these persons [persons with mental illness] are far more likely to be assaulted by others or shot by the police than to commit violent crime themselves. In this sense, persons with mental illness might well have more to fear from “us” than we do from “them.” And blaming persons with mental disorders for gun crime overlooks the threats posed to society by a much larger population—the sane.”
As a Canadian, where handgun ownership is rare, I’ve felt a certain distance from what goes on south of the border. Yet the issue is one Canadians must confront as well. Last month Justice Eric Macklin concluded that 23 y/o Matthew de Grood who in April 2013 went to a house party in Calgary and stabbed to death five young people – “was experiencing a psychotic episode at the time of the slayings.” And “that at the time he caused their deaths, was suffering from a mental disorder that rendered him incapable of appreciating or knowing that his actions were wrong” and concluded that “… Matthew de Grood committed the acts that resulted in the deaths of these five individuals, but he is not criminally responsible for those deaths on account of mental disorder.”
Does mental illness cause violence? Yes, but there’s far more to it. And is ease of access to guns the determining factor? It’s a factor but there’s far more to it!
Metzl and MacLeish conclude that:
… gun violence in all its forms has a social context, and that context is not something that “mental illness” can describe nor that mental health practitioners can be expected to address in isolation.
My heart goes out to all those affected by violence.
June 12, 2016