ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Shooting in Florida; Don't Blame the Mentally Ill

Jack Bragen
Friday February 23, 2018 - 12:49:00 PM

President Trump was predictable in blaming the Florida high school shooting on mental illness, and in offering no hint of a solution. He was predictable in complimenting the bravery of first responders, and in expressing sorrow over this loss. In addition, he was predictable in disrespecting those who are outraged by the government's inadequate weapons policy.

Mass shooters are completely different and distinct from the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people, who simply are trying to make our lives livable, and who are trying to get through another day, or who are trying to make ends meet with the pitiful income we get from SSDI and/or SSI.

The overwhelming majority of mass shooters are either terrorists or sociopaths, and do not fit the diagnoses of schizophrenia, depression or bipolar illnesses. 

When and if a typical mentally ill person enacts violence, it is due to being desperate and disorganized in the thinking, the violence is disorganized, and it is not premeditated. If you look at the death of Peter Cukor, killed by a mentally ill man, the weapon was a flowerpot, and the perpetrator probably did not understand that he was committing murder.  

By contrast, the person who committed this atrocity is completely rational, and even appears comfortable. He clings to his own life, even if it a useless life of being permanently imprisoned. He offered to plead guilty if he could avoid a death penalty.  

When I see video clips of mentally ill people who are imprisoned, I see individuals who are disoriented, who are overloaded, and who are suffering horribly. The perpetrator of the Florida shooting has none of this, and he appears to believe it is business as usual.  

It later came out in the news that the shooter had complained of being depressed. However, depression, by itself, does not equal mass murder. Far more often than that, a depressed person will take his or her own life. 

Trump and other politicians who are funded by the NRA and who do not have the spine to defy the gun lobby find it convenient to scapegoat mentally ill people, a category of people who are usually unable to stand up for ourselves.  

Most people with a regular mental illness are not sociopaths, are very sensitive individuals, and bear no malice toward anyone. Mass murder is not normally part of mental illness. Mentally ill people who have done nothing wrong should not be made to suffer because of one individual's actions.  

In California, you can't even get into an inpatient psychiatric ward even if you want to because there is an appalling lack of resources to help mentally ill people get better.  

Most medical doctors do not want to become psychiatrists because psychiatrists are poorly compensated compared to other doctors, and are given massive workloads. In Kaiser outpatient psychiatry and in many other outpatient venues, patients receive a fifteen-minute session with a psychiatrist once per month. 

It is too easy for politicians to blame mentally ill people, rather than addressing the problem: it is too easy to obtain guns. 

I welcome the President's apparent willingness to change the definition of a machine gun, and to look at increasing background checks prior to the sale of weapons. Let's hope that there will be some follow-through with this. 

The survivors and their families in Florida, and the families of those killed, are brave and heroic individuals who have started a grassroots movement that can only help the American people. Let's hope that some good can come from this tragedy.