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The REAL Tragedy of Mass Killings – It’s Not the Obvious

The mass killings in Isla Vista recently have prompted some Facebook friends to blame the problem on guns – except what about the 3 people the killer stabbed to death and the 4 people he hit with his car? Another friend just posted an ill-informed article about how all the recent mass killers were taking powerful psychotropic medicines and blaming these medicines for the violence.

NO, NO, NO!

Both these points of view miss the mark. How do I know that? Because my brother suffers from schizophrenia. He is not violent. He is deeply disturbed, however. He has an illness. My family has been dealing with it for more than 20 years. Do you know how he finally got treated? He was arrested during a traffic stop and sent to the state hospital, where he stayed for 9 months before he was stable enough to be freed. He’s been on medication since then.

How would you like it if you broke your arm and instead of going to the hospital for treatment, you were arrested and sent to jail? How would you like if you suffered from cancer and instead of going to the doctor for treatment you were arrested and sent to jail? It’s the same thing. Mental illness is pervasive and misunderstood and EVERYWHERE.

Very few people understand the difficulties involved. I even have members of my own family telling me that my brother should just get a job instead of being on government assistance. Not only is that judgmental, it is supremely unhelpful. He could maybe work 10 hours a week or so at some fast food joint – maybe. That doesn’t pay his living expenses. It doesn’t BEGIN to pay his living expenses. If it weren’t for living at my parent’s house he could very well be homeless. And you know what? MANY, MANY people with severe mental illness ARE homeless. I’ve worked in social services and have seen firsthand the incredible suffering these people endure. Do they turn to drugs and alcohol to “help” themselves. They do, quite often. Wouldn’t you?

What happens if you have mental illness? You are misunderstood. You are ignored. You are judged. You are begrudgingly helped by the criminal justice system if you become a danger to yourself or someone else.

This does not mean I am excusing the behavior of the Isla Vista killer. Not in the least. It is completely tragic, in all senses of the word. For ALL of the families involved, including the killer’s.

In future years society will look back at the draconian lack of resources and treatment for mentally ill people that we have available in America today. Mass killings like this will continue, and the ever more present silent suffering of thousands upon thousands of people who are not violent will continue because of these misunderstood conditions.

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5 thoughts on “The REAL Tragedy of Mass Killings – It’s Not the Obvious”

  1. Xina,

    I think you missed the point about medication. Just like the actions of the murderer should not be indicative of all gun owners, the actions of a murderer on medication is not indicative of those on medication.
    But we do need to explore if there is a causative relationship between those who act out violent and the medication they are on. Some medications could be related to the inability of individuals to maintain control.

    Do you know how he finally got treated? He was arrested during a traffic stop and sent to the state hospital, where he stayed for 9 months before he was stable enough to be freed.

    And do you think he would gotten stable enough on his own or did he need that involuntary commitment?
    I think had something like that happened in Santa Barbara; lives might have been saved. Of course, it is very dangerous area. Protecting the rights of the individuals, especially those with illnesses, has to be a main consideration. I don’t want the police – or even family members – to easily lock up or commit anyone.

    What are the answers? I’m not sure, I do know we need to look at the root cause of why some mentally ill people act out violently and that should include examining the effects of medication.

    Bob S.

    1. I wrote this in a rage-filled frenzy, Bob, so I didn’t adequately address the medication issue. These killers wouldn’t have been prescribed anything if they didn’t already have severe problems. I’m not disputing the idea that medication could be dangerous – I absolutely think it CAN be dangerous sometimes and under some situations. Medication treats symptoms, however, as you say. We may never truly be able to predict or stop mass killings, but the fact that mental illness is so vastly underdiagnosed and treated, so stigmatized, so misunderstood is what I’m really railing against.

      Yes, my brother absolutely needed to be involuntarily committed. I’m not angry about that. I’m angry that such a responsibility was foisted upon largely untrained (in mental health) public safety officials and jail wardens. Yes, of course we must protect individual rights; however, when someone becomes dangerously, severely mentally ill there MUST be options other than involving criminal justice to deal with them. Families should be able to commit their loved ones, in my opinion.

      I don’t know all the answers. I do know what’s not working, though, and that’s the current state of affairs.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Bob.

  2. You bring up many great points. For me, having lived in the same community as the Tech shooter generated a lot questions.There are questions I am still trying to answer—possibly one of the motivating factors in writing my novel. I wanted to find resolve, and explore what could have happened. How we could live with such a disturbed individual and not really know that. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on what should be done to end the violence. But I’m realizing there is no easy solution. However, I think if we all listen more to those suffering around us, we may be able to help one person at a time.

    Thanks for sharing this message. Great post.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Chloe. The truth is that we can never really know what goes on in the minds and in the hearts of others and for that reason we may never be able to completely prevent acts of violence. We as a society, however, can do so much more to help those who are desperately ill, and that is what I hope happens in the future, that the stigma and ignorance about mental illness may be lessened.

      And yes, everyone does have a strong opinion and those opinions are informed by personal experience. I agree about listening more, and I think that fiction such as you are writing is a particularly important and relatable way of helping people to understand what goes on in people’s heads. Keep up the good work! And thanks for reading and responding.

      1. I agree. One of my students is doing a dissertation on mental illness. They said, “That if you’ve met one person with depression, you met one. That depression could show up differently in someone else. ” This helped me to understand the depth of mental illness. I have so much to learn, and am eager to do so. Then I will be able to better serve my students. 🙂

        Thanks again for this awesome post!

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