I am so troubled by people saying that mental health is the REAL issue that needs to be addressed in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. People with mental health challenges have to deal with enough unwarranted stigmatization and marginalization as it is. People with Autism, Asperger's Sydrome, ADHD, chronic depression, chronic anxiety, personality disorders, and other mental health challenges are, on the whole, non-violent and law-abiding citizens.
Many of the people dearest to me have mental health challenges. I have spent a great deal of time in my life getting to know people from across the Autism spectrum. They are among the kindest and gentlest I have ever known. I happen to have my own mental health challenges as well. I used to be self-injurious and I still suffer from acute depression and anxiety. It's not an easy thing for me to discuss without cracking wise (this is my defence mechanism) but I will do my best, considering the gravity of this issue.
Liza Long's now-viral blog post is being heralded as "brave" and "powerful." I believe it is neither. "Michael," Long's undiagnosed 13-year-old son, is no doubt a child with behavioural challenges that need to be addressed. My heart goes out to him and to his family. And, yes, we need to do better in the United States and Canada to provide free and accessible health care for people like Michael.
I have no problem with the idea that we need to talk about mental illness. We absolutely do. But let's take a close look at the language and its implications here. Long writes: "Now is the time to talk about mental illness ... That's the only way our nation can ever truly heal." Why? Why is NOW the time for a discussion about mental illness? A very dubious link is being made between Michael's rage issues in his formative years and the monstrous act that Adam Lanza committed on December 14, 2012. The manner in which Long and the media have been using terms like Autism and Asperger's prompted the Autism Research Institute to release a very carefully worded statement on the tragedy.
The truth is, the great majority of people with Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, as well as those with other forms of mental health challenges are not to be feared. As Dr. Heather Stuart quite rightly points out, "mental disorders are neither necessary, nor sufficient causes of violence. The major determinants of violence continue to be socio-demographic and socio-economic factors such as being young, male, and of lower socio-economic status ... [Further], members of the public undoubtedly exaggerate both the strength of the relationship between major mental disorders and violence, as well as their own personal risk from the severely mentally ill."
It's difficult to comprehend that an argument based on facts (such as Stuart's) may go largely unnoticed and an argument based purely on feelings (such as Long's) is currently being lauded as persuasive and groundbreaking. I believe we have been taken in too easily by the myth of the "violent madman" whether it be through depictions in entertainment or by the media. In fact, Stuart's and countless other studies have concluded that those with mental health challenges are more likely to be victims of violent crimes. The last quote I will take from Stuart is an important one because it takes us back to the issue of "the REAL issue": "Too much past research has focused on the person with the mental illness, rather than the nature of the social interchange that led up to the violence."
What is the nature of the social interchange that led to the Newtown tragedy? Or, to put it more bluntly, what was the specific context? Here's what we know. In fact: Adam Lanza's mother was a gun enthusiast and actively participated with Adam in gun culture. She reportedly "loved" her guns and allowed her son access to them. Her guns included two traditional hunting rifles, and three guns that are basically unsuitable for hunting -- two handguns and a semi-automatic rifle. These are the three killing machines that Adam Lanza took with him that morning, after killing his mother, to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he slaughtered 20 young children and six more adults. This twisted element of North American culture where, for some reason, people feel the need to fill their homes with killing machines commonly referred to as guns (and let's face it, guns have no other purpose) and to "love" these killing machines is the real issue here. There is no reasonably intelligent argument for the inclusion of guns in our culture. Full stop. The second amendment is outdated and needs to be repealed immediately.
I have faith that Liza Long's blog post was a genuine attempt to start a discourse on mental health. For that reason, I am thankful she wrote it. I would guess that she loves her children very much and wants what's best for them. This is why I hope she will see the problematic rhetoric in her proclamation of kinship and solidarity with Adam Lanza's mother. It is a much more powerful and brave message to say: "I will not provide my son with a similar context. I will not participate in my country's love affair with guns. I am not Adam Lanza's mother. I am Michael's mother."