Reminder: It’s Not About Mental Illness.

An overwhelmingly common reaction to violent tragedies, especially mass shootings, is to blame mental illness. There is an apparent belief that mental illness causes violence, and as a result conversations about the causes of violence and ways to prevent it end up centering on mental health care. There is a very big problem with this: mental illness does not cause violence, and perpetuating the myth that it does is actively harmful to people with mental health conditions.

Many people believe it is only possible to do such a thing if you are mentally ill. Committing violence, according to them, by definition makes you “insane.” However, mental illnesses are not defined by singular actions – they are actual real illnesses. We can observe their effects on levels of biochemicals. We can see evidence of them on brain scans. They are tangibly, physically real and are not just behaviors or thoughts. Furthermore, not everyone who commits a terrible atrocity has one of these illnesses; the overwhelming majority of violent crimes are committed by people who are not mentally ill, and the overwhelming majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent and are not any more likely than anyone else to commit a violent act.

Can mental health problems play a role in things like this? Sure. Do we need better, more accessible mental health care? Absolutely. Do mental health conditions cause acts of violence? Nope.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I explain that mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, or that the majority of people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than people without mental illnesses, or that the vast majority of people who are violent do not have a mental illness, or how much evidence I provide; many of the people I know still insist that mental illness is to blame. When I try to talk about how untrue this is and how hurtful it is to me personally, I’m often told that I’m “being too sensitive” and am generally dismissed. At times like this it often feels like people see me as less than fully human, or think that I am a violent outburst waiting to happen – just because I have an illness – and over the course of these discussions, I often hear suggestions that mentally ill people should be locked up, forcibly medicated, put on lists, or forbidden from having children (hi thereeugenics), and I find myself feeling not only emotionally wounded but deeply afraid for my own freedom.

On top of being hurt emotionally, I’m frustrated by the way blaming mental illness for violence in society seems to be somewhat disingenuous and little more than scapegoating. Assuming they were being sincere, you would expect people to follow up blaming such violence on mental illness with demands for better and more accessible mental health care – which we desperately need, and I would be thrilled to see happen – but nothing seems to happen after the finger has been pointed. While organizations and politicians are busy blaming mental illness for crime and violence, mental health care remains unafforablebudgets are often reducedclinics are often closed, and patients are often dumped – and this is hardly acknowledged when the next tragedy occurs and the finger pointing begins again. The people who are quick to blame mental illness for violence are usually nowhere to be found between tragedies and show very little interest in funding treatment or research, engaging in mental health advocacy and activism, or volunteering for mental health related organizations or treatment facilities. Honestly, they rarely seem interested in even showing care and support for the mentally ill people in their own lives.

It also disturbs me that it would be so easy for so many people to dismiss my second amendment rights while fervently defending those rights for themselves; if you are willing to say the second amendment doesn’t apply to me, what other constitutional rights and legal protections would you be willing to deny me? This especially troubles me because one of the primary arguments against gun control is the use of firearms for self defense – and mentally ill people are exponentially more likely than the general population to be the victims of crimes. The need to defend ourselves, in addition to the fear of being stigmatized or forcibly hospitalized, is another reason why mentally ill people may be further discouraged from seeking treatment by this rhetoric (and any laws based based on this premise) – especially when you consider that police often do not believe mentally ill people when they report crimes and frequently end up shooting the mentally ill people they come into contact with, especially if they are in crisis. I wholeheartedly believe it is possible to create reasonable regulations on gun ownership which may consider mental health status, but if we are going to discuss preventing mentally ill people from owning firearms we need to avoid making sweeping, stigmatizing generalizations, and we need to have this conversation with care. These other problems must be effectively addressed, we should be extremely careful about the precedents we set in the process, and we need to be aware that such restrictions will not solve the problem of gun violence in general.

Facing the reality that people who are not mentally ill, people who are largely “normal,” are capable of extreme violence can be difficult, but we need to face that truth. It can be comforting to believe that, with the exception of mental illness, humans are rational creatures – but we’re not. It can be frightening for people who do not have a mental health condition to imagine experiencing things typically associated with mental illness, like hallucinations – but many do – and those experiences do not make them dangerous or violent either.  Believing in a wall that clearly separates “crazy” from “not crazy,” and then blaming the people on the “crazy” side for violence, makes violence seem predictable and makes possible solutions to such violence seem rather simple (although often horrible), and this can restore the feeling of order and sense in the universe which extreme violence steals from us – but this is an entirely false sense of security. Tearing down that wall means giving up these inaccurate beliefs, accepting that you too may be more “crazy” than you’d like to admit, recognizing that that all people (not just mentally ill people) have some capacity for violence and that mental illness is not a sufficient explanation, and then considering new possible solutions – and that can be overwhelming, but it is the crucial first step towards truly solving the problem of widespread violence.

The fact of the matter is that there is no one single cause of violence, the underlying causes of violence are complicated, and reducing violence is going to be a long-term challenge. There is not going to be a simple solution. But the good news is there are already people working on discovering and studying the factors which can lead to violence and preparing the way for possible solutions. Some of those factors include the “frustrated entitled,” “toxic masculinity,” exposure to violence, and substance abuse. As we let go of our misconceptions about the causes of violence and improve our understanding of factors which are currently contributing to violence improves, we will get better at mitigating their effects and protecting future generations from them, and violence will continue declining.

While we’re at, hopefully we can work on reducing the stigma around mental illness by ceasing to perpetuate myths about mental illness and violence as well as improving representations of mentally ill people in media, and we can improve our mental health care system and encourage and support people in seeking treatment.

[This post is a partially a mashup/rewrite of my previous posts, Yes All Women and Why I Avoid Social Media After Tragedies.]


Spirit Day

Today is Spirit Day: a day to stand up against the bullying faced by LGBT youth.

I just went purple on my “real” Facebook. I fully expect some of the remaining homophobes & transphobes on my friends list to either show up and spew their nastiness, or straight up unfriend me, but I’m trying to be optimistic.
And you know, I just don’t care. I feel the anxiety, but I don’t care. I think of my brothers and my cousins growing up hearing the same garbage I heard, living in the same hostile environment I lived in, and they deserve better. I’m willing to deal with a handful of hostile adults, no matter who those adults are, if it means they’ll get the change to grow up knowing they have at least one person in their lives who will still love them and be there for them, regardless of their orientation or gender.

I think I’m going to pop up throughout the day and post links to LGBT resources, information, art, and music. If anyone has any suggestions, leave me a comment and let me know!

First up is going to be “She Keeps Me Warm” by Mary Lambert, because every single time I hear her sing “I’m not crying on Sundays,” I immediately start crying. That one line sums up so much for me: the pain I felt when I was in love with a girl while I was in the church, the anger I felt whenever I heard people saying awful things about “homosexuals,” the raw exhilaration of finally deciding that I was done with all that hatefulness… I hear it all in her voice. And, very close to home, I especially appreciate the Corinthians 13 reference because Cor. 13 has become sort of a focal point for a very close relative of mine who has been questioning their relationship with the church and seems to be reconsidering some of their beliefs (YAY!).

In the post with my purple-ized profile picture, I also shared a link from Violence Prevention Works and highlighted these points as examples of why #SpiritDay is important and worth participating in:

  • As many as 93 percent of teenagers hear derogatory words about sexual orientation at least once in a while, with more than half of teens surveyed hearing such words every day at school and in the community.1
  • Negative name-calling and harassment about sexual orientation can be harmful to all students. Three out of four students who are bullied with such remarks are not identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (GLBTQ).2 These derogatory comments are often used broadly to inflict harm in a school setting.
  • Seventy-eight percent of gay (or believed to be gay) teens are teased or bullied in their schools and communities, a percentage significantly higher than for heterosexual youth.



I’m Still Here

So, I’ve been offline since some time in July. It’s been a bumpy couple of months. August was full of a variety of family-related events, and my anxiety about them was consuming me, so I decided to take some time alone to focus on self-care in the hopes that it would make things go more smoothly for me. I find when I’m “unplugged” it’s easier for me to acknowledge and process my emotions; I sometimes get the urge to share things in a public way when I’m upset, to a degree that I often regret (whether or not I should), so removing that possibility reduces the “risk” of really experiencing and recognizing what I’m feeling. The last few weeks I’ve been in recovery mode, processing how things went and how I feel about it. My depression has still been flaring up lately, but I’m at least back to the point where the benefits of interacting outweigh the anxiety I feel about doing it. I’m more afraid of giving in to the silence now than I am of what I might say.

When I speak up, I tend to be afraid that I’m going to go too far or say too much and end up in a position I can’t handle. It feels like I might just explode, leaving nothing of myself behind. But I’ve been speaking up, in bits and pieces, in different ways, in bursts over the last year or so – and I’m still here.

When I stay silent, I become afraid that I might just fade away and disappear. It feels like I’m not being myself, and sometimes I feel like if I stop “being” myself, I might stop existing altogether. But I’ve taken time to be silent, when I can and when I need to – and I’m still here.

I’m still here.

My “real” social media accounts have been narrowed down to the people I really don’t want to lose. My “friends” are down to family and people I would (and do) genuinely miss, people who I believe genuinely care about me and would (or do) miss me too, and I rarely check these accounts unless I have a specific reason for doing so. Even with this limited number of people and small amount of time, I end up seeing something upsetting almost every time I log in. I hold on to the hope that by continuing to gradually exposed them to new information, maybe I’ll make some kind of difference and maybe they’ll begin to understand, but I often wonder if I’m just wasting my time and energy. I know it’s hurting me, to a degree that is probably unhealthy. But I’m still here.

I see posts that are bigoted and hateful towards all kinds of LGBT people. I wonder: Do you know you’re talking about me? Would it make a difference if you did? How can you not tell? How have you never noticed? I feel invisible.  When I try to confront these comments, my identity is usually dismissed. I become the exception – “that’s not what I was talking about,” “you’re not like them.”  My gender variance is belittled and dismissed, my marriage becomes a weapon – a means of erasing the complexities of my orientation. Who I am is replaced with an image of who they believe I am or want me to be. But I’m still here.

People post jokes and make comments about mental illness that are untrue and say disparaging things about mentally ill people and use mental illnesses as insults and make flippant remarks and jokes about suicide. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I call out specifics and point out falsehoods and mention my own mental health struggles and explain that I can’t afford to take suicide lightly and have to protect myself from people who casually say things like “go kill yourself.”
Sexism and anti-feminism is as pervasive in my own feeds as it is everywhere else on the internet. Disgust is expressed for anything that might be perceived as “liberal.” Religious bigotry and condemnation is a constant presence. I’ve posted enough feminist and “liberal” content that it must be completely obvious that I fall into those categories, and I can’t imagine there are many (if any) people left who are unaware that I’ve left the church. Apparently these things are either being deliberately ignored, or these people care even less about me than I thought. But I’m still here.

I’m still here.

I’m still occupying this uncomfortable, unhealthy space. I’m still knowingly permitting people who hurt me to enter my personal sphere where they can do more harm. I’m still looking for a way to balance my desire to try to speak up for the sake of people still in this circle who feel alone and don’t have a way out (such young LGBT members or people who are financially dependent on members of the group) with my desire to protect myself and my happiness. It’s draining, and it isn’t an easy process, but I do think I’m beginning to find that balance. As I get stronger and healthier and construct a new support system, it gets easier to cope with the awfulness and easier to speak up in spite of the responses I know I might get. Over time, the people who are just plain hateful and not merely ignorant will become easier to recognize and separate myself from – and the more I put myself out there, the faster it’ll probably happen. Eventually I’ll find supportive friends and leave the hateful people behind and eventually this period of time will just be a memory and not an ongoing struggle. And until I get there, I’ll just keep reminding myself that I know I can get through this because in spite of it all, I still exist. I am still alive. I’m still here.