Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Armchair Psychiatry in the Wake of Political Assassinations

Everyone seems so comfortable pronouncing Jared Loughner mentally deranged.  I've seen him called paranoid schizophrenic and/or psychotic yesterday on Facebook, and heard nearly every pundit on MSNBC or CNN  make similar pronouncements including calling him a homicidal maniac with the sole exception of Rachel Maddow.  If we can agree that anyone who commits mass murder and/or political assassinations is crazy, then we can stop calling political assassinations terrorism when the person committing mass killings with a handgun has a Middle Eastern last name. 

In the sense that Jared Loughner's had problems in school, was kicked out, tried to join the military and was not allowed to do so because he'd taken drugs or was on drugs or some other vague something about Jared Loughner and drugs is another fairly common part of his mental health assessment the armchair psychiatrists out there cite as proof that he was unhinged. (Drug use as evidence of insanity would make a high percentage of young men and women officially crazy on every single day in every place in the country at one moment or another.)  He was arrested for having drug paraphernalia, but the charges were dropped. I haven't heard how long ago that happened, but it's part of his history and I trust an arrest record and a courts dismissal of charges.  Are they determinative of his craziness?  Not in my book, but I'm just the bipolar lady living in her garage who makes little secret that she self medicates with pot and has her whole life long.  But then I believe almost all of you are self-medicating with one thing or another at any given moment.  And who didn't go through a period of experimenting with some kind of intoxicant that your parents might have called you crazy for (if they'd only known what you were doing) back when you were young and rebellious?

The attempted mass assassination of United States Congresswoman Giffords and murder of her staffers and constituents, with a Federal Judge as collateral damage, is horrific, unspeakable.  We can only make sense of it if the angry and alienated young man who bought the gun and ammunition and went on a very targeted killing spree was insane, was a homicidal maniac.  No, he was a just another angry and alienated young white man in America in a state where the crazy seems to be in overdrive and anyone can go to the local store for guns and illegal ammunition.

 It's a pretty safe bet that money for routine screening for mental health problems is nonexistent in Arizona where money for life saving organ transplants has been cut from the state budget in favor of providing $500 million to private prisons.  Besides that, how many angry young men in America do you know who would avail themselves of the opportunity for a voluntary mental health evaluation?  I'm guessing that a lot of young men would rather lose their left nut than be diagnosed with a mental illness. But once insnared in the system and diagnosed and treated with drugs and therapy, it's almost impossible to force young men to take the drugs that would manage their illness.  Men are under served by the mental health system because they can't and won't admit they have a problem that requires medicating.  It's stigmatized like nothing else in this country. I bet it's easier to take being called a fag than a psychopath.  This has to be part of the reason that his schools, the police and courts, and the military were not willing to make treatment mandatory after coming into contact with a young man like Jared Loughner.  Either the evidence of mental illness was thought to be too flimsy to make it mandatory in any of his brushes with authorities, or we don't know anything yet.  But can anyone who targets large numbers of people for killing be considered sane?  Is there a family in this country of 90% gun ownership who doesn't have an angry, alienated young man who isn't talking about why he's so angry, why he feels so alone?

We know that Jared Loughner was trying to get an education.  He was attending a Community College and was evenually asked to leave and prohibited from coming back.  He tried to join the Military and was rejected there.  I'm sure each of these rejections fueled his alienation and anger.  And even if he hadn't been able to buy a gun and amunition legally, he could have bought one from a private seller at a gun show or out of someones trunk in the parking lot of Wall Mart.  Guns are easier to buy than antidepressants, and cheaper when you get right down to it.

Monday Rachel Maddow held up clippings for twenty or so mass shootings by young men with handguns all over the country in the past twenty years (which was a fraction of the actual number of such stories).  It's not as uncommon as it should be.  I'm not as shocked as I should be.  Yes, I'm filled with sorrow for the family's of the victims.  I'm hoping for a good recovery for Congresswoman Giffords.  I'm stunned that no amount of slaughter with a single handgun with an extended clip can make us talk sanely about gun control.  We are the most heavily armed nation on the planet. This is the one area where we are number one.  There are 90 guns for every 100 people in the United States. I know, for most of you that's just a ho hum statistic. That's a sickening statistic to me.  Because there is no way to force anyone into a taking a psych evaluation prior to buying a gun and ammunition.  I think it should be a requirement for anyone buying a gun, but I'm just the crazy lady who takes her medications and doesn't own a gun.  But I'd bet money I could go to any sporting goods store and buy a Glock drive a couple of blocks to Wall Mart and buy an extended ammo clip.  It would make committing suicide a lot easier.  The difference between a crazy old woman and an alienated young man is, he's far more likely to kill other people before killing himself.


Life As I Know It Now said...

But then I believe almost all of you are self-medicating with one thing or another at any given moment.


Yeah, I think people are quick to call him crazy because they don't want to say he was a right wing politically motivated individual who took Sarah's graphics just a little too far.

Utah Savage said...

Lib, it's good to see you. I agree with you. I hope you and I aren't the only two who think that.

L'Adelaide said...

this is brilliantly said and i, another crazy old woman with borderline personality disorder who takes her meds and avoids the garage, never could have related this more succinctly. thank you for putting this out there for your tweeters and all else to read...let us hope they at least, ponder the truth for a moment or two. xx

Nan said...

Gun control is only one of the many things we can't have a sane conversation about in this country. You touched on another biggie when it comes to mental health care -- funding keeps getting slashed, the safety net is gone, and no one notices until something grabs headlines. . . and then we blame the shooter for not being able to cure himself through sheer self-will.

Cleveland Bob said...

Well said, Utah.

So sad and scary. So many guns...so many guns.

Utah Savage said...

LInda, Nan, Bob, thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. This issue is important for so many reasons. The level of ho hum acceptance of gun violence is part of our collective mental illness. The availability of guns to so many who without a hospitalization in a Psych Ward with a diagnosis and an order for meds is a must, but then there has to be follow up with compliance. But compliance is nearly impossible and it's easy to find guns even if there is a mental health hold or flag. Gun shows private sellers, theft, borrow from a family collection.

And then there is the ginning up of violent aggressive political rhetoric that's impossible to miss hearing if Fox News is on the menu. And where ever you go in the west that isn't costal, you have a gun culture and an anti mental health mentality. It's stigmatized. It's tabu for young males to get tagged with "crazy." I certain this is the trigger that sends them into rage and purpose and violence. We've got a problem and a political party setting the legislative agenda with no inclination to allocate funds for mental health screenings but call that sort of thing the "Nanny State".

Fran said...

And Bloomberg News reported that pistol sales soared in Arizona on Monday. Citing FBI data, Bloomberg said one-day sales of handguns in Arizona for Jan. 10 were 263 — 60 percent higher than on the corresponding Monday a year ago.

And a glimpse into the Arizona mindset:
Outside Sportsman's Warehouse, the cavernous store where Loughner purchased his Glock, gun owner Jason Moats said that "the bad guys can get the guns either way." He suggested that the shootings could have been less tragic had there been one more weapon out there, rather than one less.

I think it was a combo of a disturbed young man in need of mental health care (you are right... good luck getting a 22 year old to do what you want him to do).

But the hate that spews from right wing talking heads, and tea party types (does Palin really think putting crosshairs on a map & using the phrase 'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'
as a freaking gun enthusiast, want us to believe
all that was benign, non gun references?

The vitriol fans the flames of those who entertain violent acts.

Honestly-- I have to wonder if his parents are tea party haters??? Did they have talk radio playing all day long?

Just curious.

Utah Savage said...

Fran, As this case unfolds we will get a glimpse into the dark violent sick heart of the American psyche. It's going to be horrifying and we won't be able to turn away.

Kulkuri said...

You may probably be able to buy a gun and clip, but you'll have to come back later to buy the ammo. That's so you can't shoot up the store.

Fiddlin Bill said...

This is really a very very good post. Thank you!

Utah Savage said...

Bill, thank you.

Cirze said...

I'm with you absolutely on that, girls! There is no way that the things he said, left written about the gold standard, etc., didn't come from Faux Snoozers (Beckkk, Slimebaugh,etc., and get hammered home by Palin's "reload").

If you look closely at the issues of gun control, climate change, rending of the safety net programs, public funding of elections (good government policies that used to be accepted as guaranteeing democratic virtues), you'll see Koch money funding the lies that are touted to destroy the good programs (also the fake studies on everything coming out of the Cato Institute and all the other fake "neo-liberal (another fake term) think tanks).

It's late, but I've been thinking for years that women due to their insight into these issues over time (particularly the older, sophisticated variety) will be the ones to pull us out of this crap neo-liberal morass.

Thanks for all you do to keep us informed about the real issues of the day.


P.S. This slappz-happy guy infests all liberal/progressive blogs until he is banned - seems he's paid by the Koch or Koch-enabling people to try to confuse or anger the reasonable thinkers. His words are full of lies.

Think of him as your ticket to being noticed by the real bad guys since you are so effective in combating their BS.

Fran said...

One more thing-- read about synthetic marijuana... the shooter was using Synergy
an herbal "incense" w chemicals that replicate THC in marijuana, but also have chemicals that may be harmful & are addictive.

This may be a pice of the puzzle re the shooter.
What if he had no mental illness, but was effected by this toxic stuff?


Utah Savage said...

Susan, thanks for telling me that about this troll. God what a long winded fucker. He should start his own blog instead of posting on other people's sites. I'm now going to delete his comments and keep deleting him in the future.

no_slappz said...

ahh, "liberals", the first to run from a fact-based argument.

Lougher, as we know, is truly a nut, is affiliated with no political groups and has no agneda other that the jumble that fills the minds of nuts.

As we know, when he attempted to enlist in the Army he told the recruiter he had been a heavy pot smoker. That's an automatic disqualification. The Army did not judge him to be crazy. It simply refused to induct him because he admitted his prior behavior made him ineligible.

Meanwhile, since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have committed 17,000 acts of lethal terrorism.

Mauigirl said...

Utah, you are right, and this is a great post on this tragic subject. I confess I'm one of those armchair psychiatrists who said Loughner is probably mentally ill, but I said it because his personality change seemed rather abrupt and came at around the time schizophrenia would be ordinarily showing up.

I personally think it would be the right thing to do for people to be psychologically evaluated before being allowed to purchase a gun but I know the NRA will never let that become law. It is such a quandary. Rachel's list of violent gun-related incidents was very powerful, and of course it's true that they were only a drop in the bucket. Living near Newark, NJ, I hear stories of people being shot very frequently. And of course these shootings don't make the news, and yet they happen. I will never understand people who are so pro-gun that they won't abide a single law to limit gun ownership in any way. One of my FB friends who happens to be a conservative actually said mentally ill people should be allowed to buy guns because people are "innocent until proven guilty." So what does that mean? We have to wait until they shoot someone before we can keep them from having a gun? It's absurd.

no_slappz said...

utah, you wrote:

I'm stunned that no amount of slaughter with a single handgun with an extended clip can make us talk sanely about gun control.

Every year in the US there are over 16,000 murders. About 12,000 are committed with handguns. Most murders involve a single shot. Some involve two shots. Those murders claim the vast majority of victims. How many murders involve weapons with high-capacity magazines? A handful. You're focusing on the wrong problem.

You wrote:

We are the most heavily armed nation on the planet.

You sure about that? I think there are a lot of countries you haven't visited.

This is the one area where we are number one. There are 90 guns for every 100 people in the United States.

As if this matters. As I said, in the US there are 16,000 murders a year. In Colombia, with a population that is a fraction of ours, there are 50,000 murders a year -- that are reported.

Mexico is trying to compete with Colombia.

You wrote:

Because there is no way to force anyone into a taking a psych evaluation prior to buying a gun and ammunition. I think it should be a requirement for anyone buying a gun, but I'm just the crazy lady who takes her medications and doesn't own a gun.

Inasmuch as only the truly delusional would answer "Yes, I want to buy a gun so I can shoot someone", there's no likelihood a mental test is going to weed out the nuts most likely to commit murder.

Test questions meant to elicit answers that will allow psychologists to conclude a person with no police record is sure to commit murder are impossible to construct. Meanwhile, as we know, virtually all handguns are purchased legally first, but some, through various charades and outright thefts, fall out of the legal sphere into the hands of people with criminal records.

You wrote:

But I'd bet money I could go to any sporting goods store and buy a Glock drive a couple of blocks to Wall Mart and buy an extended ammo clip. It would make committing suicide a lot easier.

An extended ammo clip would make suicide easier? Do you know of any suicides in which the shooter shot himself more than once?

You wrote:

The difference between a crazy old woman and an alienated young man is, he's far more likely to kill other people before killing himself.

Oh. So you believe in profiling. However, if you're going to profile people by their likelihood to engage in certain behaviors, then you should accept the obvious reality that almost all terrorists are muslims. And you should also acknowledge that males in Loughner's age group are the most likely to people to commit suicide.

Of course, muslim terrorists get top scores for committing terrorist acts AND being part of the male demographic most likely to commit suicide.

Anonymous said...

Just got around to reading this Wonderfully stated. we do have a problem here, and it is not just guns. It is the fact that people, our people are dying at the hands of us. Fear, anger, drugs, whatever the reason, the pressure to create an act of hate has never been so intense, here in Amerika. But we remember Hitler, and his forced media and information control. His people killed each other too, in obscene amounts. The guns are not the problem. The lack of good screening, good healthcare, and control of hate mongering politicians and media are the problem. Oh and the fact that 140 billion dollars has disappeared into Afghanistan, again. Our mentally unbalanced or damaged young people go untreated and unnoticed until they do something like this. This guy was in trouble, but I wonder, really , who pushed him over the edge. Do I think he was manipulated, hell yes.

ultravox said...

I think people are quick to call him crazy because they don't want to say he was a right wing politically motivated individual who took Sarah's graphics just a little too far.

That's ridiculous. With all the reports about how he's been a threat in school, not allow to serve in the military, etc., you don't think this guy wasn't mentally unstable, probably schizophrenic?

UT< You said a man, would rather lose his left nut than be tagged with mental problems, that's so nuts. You of all people, being bipolar, know that most people with mental problems are hard to treat as they don't think they HAVE a problem so won't seek treatment, even if they could. Your logic is so fucking loopy at times. You seem to want to blame guns or right winged pundits rather than his mental disease. Yeah, he should have had treatment, but who the heck is going to do it if he doesn't think he has a problem in the first place? You are right, there needs to be someway to get these mentally unstable people some sort of treatment, but I don't know how that would be legislated. Hell, you'd have thought his parents would have looked into this, they are as much to blame, I think.

You want to point your finger to an easy answer (one that will make your political views more sound) like Palin, Beck, or whoever, but you seem to downplay his mental illness. You know people with mental problems have done this before, long before, the right winded talk shows or political pundit were ever around don't you? You do remember Charles Whitman? Could Palin,etc. have added fire to his already nutty mind? Who knows, he was already nuts. I could have been just inner demons, pick a cause or reason, you don't need much if he's already crazy.

I think it's more just his mental instability plus the abundance of guns. And it doesn't seem that America is going to give up guns (happiness is a warm gun) or do much about mental health either.

Alexa said...

The photo that heads this post terrifies me.

I have never held a gun in my hands ... and I never want to. A long, long time ago, one of my siblings, who was about 13 at the time, grabbed the family-farm rifle in a panic to quell a terrible fight between our parents. The gun wasn't fired ... but as I watched in horror from my bedroom window as my sibling raced out of the house, everything in me, paralyzed, waited for spewing blood.

... So many of us who are stamped with the 'mental illness' label are simply living our lives, quietly and as sanely as we can ... Utah, you nail it when you write that "the level of ho-hum acceptance of gun violence is part of our collective mental illness." Moreso, it's evidence of our collective territoriality gone mad.

Whatever derangements were building up in that boy who shot all those people in Arizona overflowed that day ...

Utah Savage said...

Here's the think we need to keep in mind with Jared Loungher. The common wisdom was he was crazy. There were two or three instutions with previous contact that knew he had mental/emotional problems and other than shunning him, did nothing to prevent him from buying a gun. But the most important thing about whether or not this was a political event was the targets. It was a publicized political event. He went after Gabby Giffords first.

Ultravox, I sought psychiatric help. Most of the people in treatment at the large clinic I go to for therapy and group are women. Men are welcome, but they choose not to participate. The only men I know getting help are those who have been court ordered or have been hospitalized and from there sent to a clinic. Even then men refuse to take their meds. They'd rather self-medicate with alcohol than take pills to treat a mental illness they don't want to admit they have. Admitting you need help is culturally easier for women than it is for men. Sad but true. So what do we do to stop undiagnosed men from buying guns at places like the gun show pictured above?