Here's my most recent article published in the Huffington Post:
When confronted with terrifying and inexplicable events we experience
extremely uncomfortable and seemingly unbearable individual and
collective chaos. We are thrown into crisis. Nothing makes sense.
Everything seems out of control. Life becomes terrifying. Our very
survival appears to demand an immediate return to the perceived safety
and certainty of life before the chaos of crisis.
crisis can sometimes be as clear as finding the most direct path to
safety: Leave a burning building through the closest exit. Seek a
storm cellar before the tornado arrives. Go to high ground during a
flood. These safety strategies are historically effective and may help
us survive such moments of danger. We further understand that fires are
extinguished, winds end, and waters recede. Most of us don't live in
constant fear of these dangers and those who do seldom thrive. We also
generally understand the root causes of these dangers. When these
understandable crises end, their dangers for the most part also end. We
clean up the debris, we bandage the wounded, we bury the dead and then
we turn once again toward balance and life.
indicates that the mass shootings of the past decade have devastated our
necessary sense of equilibrium and left us in a different type of
crisis state. As we reel from the violence we demand explanation. As
life becomes increasingly scary we seek accountability. Unfortunately,
this is no simple crisis and, despite our yearnings for one, there is no
clear, direct path to safety. There is no single source of our current
danger. Nevertheless, flailing, we grasp at anything that might steady
us. We cling to the simple solution and the named culprit. With a
culprit and a solution we feel safer and more in control.
human need to quickly resolve a crisis and regain safety and control is
innate and understandable. As a strategy for resolving our current
crisis of mass shootings this 'quick-find-
the-culprit-and-implement-the-solution' approach holds the potential for
doing more harm than good. All too quickly and all too frequently we
point our fingers at already disenfranchised minorities and proudly
proclaim that we've found the bad guys. We then feel compelled to 'do
something about' those to whom our fingers point.
tragic mass shooting we are called upon, for example, to 'do something
about' mental illness. The majority of the
'mental-illness-is-the-culprit' strategies are sadly rooted in
misunderstanding and misinformation.
Any strategy designed to
target those among us receiving mental health services will likely
violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
privacy rule. Federal law protects the privacy of our medical
information. If you don't want your recent treatment for that STD made
public then don't demand that your neighbor's recent treatment for
depression be made public either.
It must be further noted that
when we point our fingers of blame at the mentally ill in this country
we are pointing at over 50 million people. Each year one in four adults
experience a mental disorder. (Martinelli, Laurie R., Binney, June S.
& Kaye, Rebecca.2014."Separating Myth from Fact: Unlinking Mental
Illness and Violence and Implications for Gun Control Legislation and
Public Policy." New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement.
40. 359-357.) Seeing a woman odorous and disheveled jumping up and
down while shouting at someone invisible to us can be unsettling. It is
very different behavior. Unfortunately our national mythology equates
different with dangerous and so we fear difference.
and 2010 people with mental illness perpetrated fewer than 5% of the
120,000 gun-related killings in this country. (Metl, Jonathan
M.2015."Gun violence, stigma, and mental illness: Clinical
implications". Psychiatric Times. 32.3. 54.) Different does
not necessarily mean dangerous. Is it possible for a person suffering
from mental illness to become violent? Of course it is. Is it possible
for a person who has never experienced any symptoms of mental illness
to also become violent? Absolutely. Predicting violent behavior is
potentially possible. However relying on mental health providers to
make such predictions is not practical. Definitions of mental illness
are fluid. Even the bible of psychiatric diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, publishes regular revisions.
Seeking our quick exit from crisis by identifying and pointing fingers
at potential culprits also increases the stigma of already stigmatized
minorities. Research tells us that public stigma robs the mentally ill
of work, independent living and other important life opportunities and
further negatively impacts their own self-esteem and self-efficacy.
(Corrigan, Patrick W. & Watson, Amy C.2002."The Paradox of
Self-Stigma and Mental Illness". American Psychological Association. D12. 35-53.)
his address to the Institute of Medicine's (IOM's) Forum on Global
Violence Prevention, Dr. Mark Rosenberg stated that, "Mental illness
plays only a small role in violence, but that intersection is clouded by
misconceptions and disinformation in the public's mind." (Levin,
A.2014."Experts Refute Myths Linking Mental Illness, Violence". Psychiatric News. March 31.)
is no denying that we are in the middle of a national crisis. However,
by claiming the quick explanations and solutions we so desperately
crave we risk not only missing the root causes of the crisis but also,
in fact, making it worse. Our problem is systemic. Each of us is part
of the problem and in our hands each of us holds part of the solution.
a crisis it is extremely difficult to take time for analysis and
consideration. We desperately want to take the quickest path to safety.
This crisis, however, demands deliberation and careful attention. Our
quick solutions based on knee-jerk blaming may feel good in the moment.
In the long run, however, they will worsen our already terrible
People don't like having fingers pointed at them. It
doesn't feel good. However, to appropriately examine our current crisis
it is absolutely necessary to first point our fingers at ourselves. It
won't feel good but it may help us navigate through this crisis to a
place of safety.