For those of you living under a goddamn rock, a white dude walked into a predominantly black church and shot the place up. He killed 9 people.
That's really not what I've decided to spend my lunch hour talking about though: I want to talk about mental health in the context of mass violence. So if you want to hear about that go ahead and click through to the rest of this entry, otherwise move along on your merry way.
I will start by stating a simple grounding premise: Committing mass murder is, by virtue of the act itself, an indication that a person is mentally ill.
Sane people do not fly planes into buildings to kill people (whether they're a white dude flying a Piper Dakota into an IRS building or a Muslim flying a 767 into the World Trade Center).
Sane people do not shoot up a school (theirs or others).
Sane people do not walk into a church and open fire on people in prayer.
I do not care what color someone's skin is: If they have reached the point where they feel justified in slaughtering other human beings en masse they are exhibiting clear signs of mental illness (you could call them a sociopath, or say they have "Antisocial Personality Disorder", or whatever you like), and we as a society have fucking failed miserably at identifying and treating them before they became dangerous.
I have heard a lot of people say "mentally ill doesn't mean violent" - and they're right. Most people with mental illness are not violent, and many of the ones who are are more likely to harm themselves than someone else.
My problem is that many of the voices I've been hearing over the last 12 hours are taking this to the extreme and implying, intentionally or not, that violent people can't be mentally ill, and that's just as bogus as saying all mentally ill people are violent.
I have heard a lot of people saying "violence doesn't mean mental illness" - and they're right. If you punch someone for kissing your spouse that doesn't mean you're mentally ill. If you happen to kill them with that punch you're still not mentally ill.
My counterpoint is that when your mind has reached a point where you can justify mass slaughter simply because people look/act/talk differently from you then you have crossed a line. You have lost the basic human empathy and understanding necessary to function in society.
I have heard a lot of people say that the media is using mental illness as an "excuse" for white people's behavior (while people of color are branded thugs or similar), and that's true.
Welcome to America: Racism is alive and well and the media is perpetuating it. We should continue to call them out on it, because there is no reason a black person should not be considered mentally ill if they shoot up a white church for similar reasons, and we should parade out the same experts to make the same explanations the next time a black person marches into a white church to shoot the place up. (I'll not hold my breath waiting for that to happen but if you believe the mainstream media's portrayal of "Black America" I'll call an ambulance for you when you start turning blue.)
I have heard a lot of folks saying that "hate is not a mental illness" - and they're sort-of right: Hate, in and of itself, is not a mental illness. I hate stupid people. I wish they would be removed from existence so I didn't have to deal with them.
Organized hate groups are something different. They're cults. We consider cults to do serious psychological harm to their members - there are entire wings of psychology devoted to "deprogramming" people and helping them get their normal lives back & function again in society. We need to identify these groups as what they are and try to undo the damage they're doing to their members and our society at large. We need to do it BEFORE their cultists become violent.
By not considering this sort of violence in the context of mental illness we're ignoring the fact that early intervention, counseling, deprogramming, etc. may be able to prevent this shit and possibly improve the overall fabric of our society. It's no different to me than addiction: When you treat an addict from a criminal standpoint ("This person stole a car to buy drugs. Put them in jail!") you don't solve the root problem - that person gets out and steals another car because they need their fix. When you treat the addiction - the physical, and psychological issues (including whatever drove the person to drugs in the first place) - you wind up with someone who can be a valuable member of society again.