Ableism, Mental Illness & Violent Crime

This might do just about nobody any good.

What I want to say is contrary to the opinions of a great many people whose intelligence and principles I respect, admire and try – in my own tiny way – to emulate. It is based largely off of my own personal experiences and thus is, to a massive degree, anecdotal. Take it with a pinch of salt. It is just the view of one man. Ok? Ok. So here goes…

Anyone who takes a life, including their own, is mentally ill.

That’s really pretty much it. No other point to make or belief to declare. Just a solitary sweeping assumption that is doubtless seen by many as, at the very least, flawed. At most, it’s probably some sort of blasphemy.

I’ve suffered from mental illness most of my life. Certainly my entire adult life. I think I was 14 or 15 when I was first medicated for depression, but really I had been experiencing the sort of self-hatred, panic attacks, social phobia and other symptoms since I had first entered secondary school at 12. Of course, as my dad was a shrink, I didn’t manage to muster the courage to get (or need, in the case of acquiring pills) outside help until well into my twenties. I had a breakdown and a subsequent stint in psychiatric hospital when I was 27. If there is one thing I know about, and experience on a daily basis, it’s mental illness.

It is possible, indeed probable, that most if not all people experience mental illness at some stage in their lives. There are some who believe the mentally disturbed and the mentally ill to be distinct groups – I think this is semantic rubbish, a splitting of hairs designed to ‘other’ those whose illness causes harm from those whose illness does not. The reality is that any one of us can sink into the abyss at virtually any moment, for virtually any period of time. This is why medication exists. This is why therapy exists. This is why hospitals exist.

To pretend, as some seem to do, that a person’s mental health is irrelevant when, say, he shoots numerous people to death or flies his plane into the side of a mountain (for it is almost alway a ‘he’ who does these things), is grossly irresponsible. There are a myriad of reasons why individuals act the way they do, of course, but to suggest that a mentally healthy person would – or even could – commit these acts is simply intellectual dishonesty. Some of it I genuinely do not understand; some mental health advocates were up in arms at the suggestion that pilots who suffer or are suffering from depression should not be allowed at the controls. Really? Would you board a plane knowing that the captain was struggling with the psychological strain life presents?

I will be accused of ableism, I’m sure of it. I was accused before, in the aftermath of the Rodgers killing spree in California. Then, as now, I opined that an individual who kills based on a ludicrous misogynistic, entitled, narcissistic perspective of the world is de facto mentally ill. To me, this is not a particularly incendiary statement. It baffles me that, to some, it is.

The fact that it is invariably white killers who receive a focus on their mental health, while killers of colour (KOCs) are denied the same, is not a justifiable reason for slandering the approach – surely it should just be extended to non-white actors? The guys from ISIL who hack journalists’ heads off, mass murderers Boko Haram, the killers of Lee Rigby, the 7/7 bombers… All of these people were or are clearly, to me, suffering from serious psychological torment of one form or other. Al Qaeda were memorably described by Bill Bailey as a ‘loose affiliation of psychopathic zealots’ – do people believe that he was being ableist in his choice of adjective?

Perhaps I am wrong on this. If so, I apologise to my fellow sufferers of mental illness and all those who advocate on their behalf. Here, I’ve just been thinking out loud. Maybe I should do it less often?

Addendum: My infinitely more experienced comrade Shane Mage wrote, in response to the initial draft of this post, “No credible concept of health is consistent with impulsive violence–whether or not the violent killer wears a uniform. That the mental illness involved is widespread in our mortally ill capitalist social order does not in the least make it less a mental illness.”

Addendum 2: Good opinion piece on Newsweek arguing essentially the same point vis a vis the link between mental illness and mass shootings, by Matthew Lysiak.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…


About Seba Roux

Gooner, Socialist, Historian, Slacker. That's pretty much all you need to know.
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