In the aftermath of the shootings in Arizona almost every person speaking out about the shootings, and trying to figure out who Jared Loughner is and why he went on that rampage of gun violence targeting a specific Congresswoman and her aids and constituents, have pronounced him a madman, a homicidal maniac, a paranoid schizophrenic, a psychotic and more, all without a single mental health professional actually speaking with him and doing a mental health assessment. And all this flinging of the crazy is done in a country with very poor access to mental health care. I did hear one woman with mental health credentials (she'd been a profiler for the FBI) call him all kinds of crazy without actually speaking with him, based solely on the tiny bits and pieces pasted together from his You Tube videos and the brief comments of a "friend" of his. Not only is that kind of pronouncement hugely unethical, it's hugely irresponsible and prejudicial. If there was already an impediment to seeking mental health care due to the stigma of a diagnosis that labels one "crazy," there is now the extra stigma of being labeled such a danger to society that we crazy people should all be incarcerated to protect the rest of you undiagnosed crazies from us diagnosed crazies. It makes those of us who have sought help for our mental health problems worry that we are now viewed by our friends and neighbors as a ticking time bomb of potential homicidal rage. But these days, who isn't? And when you look around, how many of those who seem too angry or too unstable to be out in the world are not only gun owners but packin' heat at any given moment. Does this make you all feel safer?
Since the shooting rampage in Tucson, I've heard a great deal about the rights of all to buy a fully automatic Glock and an extended ammo clip but very little about the rights of all to receive mental health counseling. In fact in these hard economic times most states are cutting budgets for mental health coverage just as we're ramping up the fear and loathing of the mentally ill.
I know from my own experience with the mental health care system that it's not easy to diagnose a specific mental illness. I have been depressed since early childhood, but my depression wasn't treated until I was in my late twenties despite two suicide attempts, one in my late teens and one in my early twenties. I was called "moody". And despite the many years of therapy, it took an internist to put me on an antidepressant in my late twenties. She was smart enough to tell me that I would always need to be on an antidepressant. In fact, the first antidepressant was so effective that it's still a great drug for me, for my specific brain chemistry, despite all the new antidepressants on the market these days. I was in my mid-forties when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The reason this diagnosis took so long was that my mania was seen as unlimited drive, mercurial range, access to vast energy. I was called high strung. I was compared to a race horse. My whole system was speedier than average. I was a tightly coiled spring. I was a disaster in the making. But on the way to disaster I did a lot of very interesting things. I was articulate enough to get away with almost anything. I even owned a gun. And I almost pulled the trigger on a man in a moment of exasperation with him for not leaving me alone when I asked him to. Luckily for me, and for all the annoying men to follow, I got rid of the gun and never replaced it. Where is that stylish little Browning Semi-Automatic Pistol now? Probably in the hands of someone like Jared Loughner.