By Gene Lyons

Americans Must Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness

January 2, 2013 12:00 am Category: Memo Pad 37 Comments A+ / A-
Americans Must Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness

Of all the outrages to decency and common sense during National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the most offensive may have been his depiction of America as a dark hell haunted by homicidal maniacs.

“The truth,” LaPierre insisted, “is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”

Monsters, evil, possessed. Demons, for the love of God.

Is this the 21st century, or the 17th? In LaPierre’s mind, like many adepts of the gun cult, it follows that every grown man and woman must equip themselves with an AR-15 semi-automatic killing machine with a 30-round banana clip to keep monsters out of elementary schools. Die Hard: With a Blackboard.

To be fair, polls show that most gun owners support reasonable reforms like closing the “gun show” loophole allowing no-questions-asked sales that evade FBI background checks. It may be politically possible to ban high-capacity magazines and to reinstate something like the assault weapons ban allowed to expire in yet another of President George W. Bush’s many gifts to the nation.

That these actions would have limited short-term effect is no reason not to act. Nobody’s Second Amendment rights would be compromised either. America can’t achieve sensible gun laws without first politically isolating extremists.

But there’s another way that LaPierre’s appalling rhetoric helps make a bad situation worse. Loose talk about possession and demons serves only to deepen the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and contributes to society’s refusal to deal seriously with its effects.

Newtown mass shooter Adam Lanza hasn’t been, and probably can’t be, diagnosed with any certainty. But all the signs point to paranoid schizophrenia, a devastating brain disease whose victims are no more possessed by demons than are cancer patients or heart attack survivors.

Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg writes that early signs of the disease “may include being a quirky loner—often mistaken for Asperger’s syndrome,” the less-stigmatizing diagnosis Nancy Lanza reportedly told friends accounted for her son’s peculiarities.

Schizophrenia is a physiological disorder of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in disordered and obsessive thinking, auditory hallucinations and other forms of psychosis. Sufferers often imagine themselves to have a special connection with God or some other powerful figure. It’s when they start hearing command voices telling them to avenge themselves upon imagined enemies that terrible things can happen.

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Americans Must Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness Reviewed by on . Of all the outrages to decency and common sense during National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre press conference following the Sandy Hook E Of all the outrages to decency and common sense during National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre press conference following the Sandy Hook E Rating:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

    Mental illness is not unique to the United States or to a specific segment of our population. It is something that afflicts millions of people worldwide and most families. Improvements in mental care, and a more positive attitude towards those afflicted by a mental illness, are desperately needed, but that will not prevent more massacres from taking place in the United States. Tragedies such as the ones at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Aurora, the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, Tucson and others will continue to happen as long as people, mentally unstable or not, have easy access to semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, and high capacity magazines that do not require frequent reloading.
    The arms industry, and its spokesman, the NRA, can place blame for these tragedies on whomever they wish, common sense proves they are wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

      To say that someone has a mental disorder does not stigmatize or put shame on the person that is affected with such disorder. To say any gun will kill a person in the context that the gun will do such a thing on its’ own accord is totally and purposely misleading to demonize guns. To say a gun by itself is capable of preforming any thing is a lie. It takes a bad person with a gun that wants to do harm to another person to make any gun shoot. Banning guns will not stop any crime that is commited with a gun. It only makes it easier for a criminal that will get a gun illegaly to use it to commit a crime. Arrest the criminals and keep them in jail. The bleeding heart liberals think that if you treat the bad guys nicely they will miraculously become saints.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/YBYYIQHBLD7BZAU6L3DC7MS4YM Rodney

        i,m not saying to ban guns an everyone knows that a gun by its self can cause no harm but richard do you relly want some one too have a semi auto gun around kids in school what if that “good guy’ HAS A BAD DAYwhat then .i am saying that i have no need for a gun that has a 30 round clip to shoot bambi do you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

      The anti-gun liberal gun free zone advocates cause people to be in a kill zone. The crazys knowthis and seek out these places to inflict as much damage as possible with out being molested themselves. If there is noone in these places to use as a defence, every one in these places becomes a victim. These gun free zones are nothing more than KILL ZONES.

    • http://profiles.google.com/attorneystoll Lem Stoll

      I agree

      • daniel bostdorf

        If you want to understand this matter in a RATIONAL manner, I suggest you look up on the internet Ben Boone. He is a remarkable young man helping to destigmatize mental illness.

        Benjamin Boone shares a journey few are able to take and talk about. Boone, now in his early 30s, was diagnosed with schizophrenia the day after he graduated with a degree in writing and publishing from Emerson College in Boston. He spent spent a month at Mclean Hospital and six months at a group home.

        During the past ten years he’s been hospitalized nine times. Faced with the reality that he had a lifelong illness and his childhood ambitions would never be realized, he offered himself up as a test subject for dozens of research studies at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts hospitals.

        His book “ Minority of Mind” tells a compelling story of his life as “subject” for the study of schizophrenia and a host of other unrelated illnesses. The book is worth reading just for the inside look at medical research in Boston, but it is much more than that. “Minority of Mind” details a young man’s descent into darkness, and his daily struggles to perform as a person, rather than a manifestation of his illness. It addresses how society treats those with serious psychiatric disorders and challenges our definition of ‘madness.

        He is a successful lecturer and peer counselor and shows you what mental illness is…and more important…what it isn’t…

        Brain chemistry disorders should be treated the same way we treat Epilepsy and othet mood disorders.

        With love and compassion and medications.

        Not hate or a jail sentence.

  • SchoolBoardMember

    This is the guy who wants to put an armed policeman in every school. An idea that would make all of our schools as safe as Columbine, which had a police officer.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KOPKDFAUQPIIRAFI3HEXNMSHLQ Ed

    Sounds like he is describing the Tea Party. Or perhaps repubs in general.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.ross.7505468 Michael Ross

    Schizophrenia isn’t the root source of the problem though. The problem is that Wayne LaPierre wants to sell every schizophrenic in the country a Bushmaster assault rifle.

    • stcroixcarp

      This is the point exactly! LaPierre mentioned mental illness as a cause of the Sandy Hook murders, but he did not give any possible solutions to the issue of mental illness. How about the NRA donating big money to fund real scientific research and treatment of mental illness for starters? How about getting the NRA lobby machine cranked up to support for government financing of treatment? How about the NRA doing something meaningful to keep firearms away from the mentally ill, domestic abusers and criminals?

      • http://www.facebook.com/dominick.vila.1 Dominick Vila

        Were the tragedies in Aurora, the Sikh Temple, Virginia Tech, Tucson and the rest all carried out by people suffering from mental illness? In fact, are all the victims of gun violence that die every single day in every city and town in the USA killed by people suffering from mental illness?
        Mental illness is not the issue, the issue is the instrument (s) being used to slaughter innocent people, including small children, every single day.

        • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

          Thousands of people are killed in car crashes every year. Noone jumps on the band wagon to demonize autos and scream cars need to be banned. You need to get real.

      • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

        Do you have a solution for mental illness? NO you don’t! How about all you anti-gun nuts donating big money to fund real scientific research and treatment for mental illness instead of crying demon guns and the trash statistics you dolts spew? It is not guns that kill. It is the mentally deranged and ruthless criminals that will and do use any thing as a weapon to kill someone. Not just a gun.

        • stcroixcarp

          Yes, I do have some solutions. 1. We need adequate funding for mental health services. In my community, mental health services are expensive and hard to get. Two years ago, a man with known mental illness took his shot gun and started shooting at people and cars on main street. Luckily he did not have an assault weapon. He had a double barrel with buck shot. The victims suffered only blown out radiators, broken windshields and cuts and abrasions. The shooter refused to surrender and was killed by police. Most of the time, this was a good law abiding man, but he committed suicide by police. The nearest mental health facility was 40 miles away. We need mental health care providers within a reasonable distance. 2. We need laws that will make it easier for relatives and case workers to have people suffering from mental illness hospitalized. The mentally ill patient often doesn’t know how sick he or she is. 3. We need background checks for ALL gun purchases. This would require a high speed national registry. Gun purchases should be denied to people who have a history of mental illness, domestic abuse, and violent criminal records. 4. There needs to be a tracking system for all guns from manufacture to melt down and each gun needs to be insured for liability if it is used to cause property damage, personal injury or death. 5. All gun owners must be held personally responsible for the weapons they own and be liable for damages. 6. Gun manufacturers must bear liability for the safety of their products. 7. Assault weapons need to be banned outright.

    • jointerjohn

      If you are not paranoid and disturbed enough to turn your house into an armory, the NRA will do everything it can to make you paranoid and disturbed until you do! That organization is an arsonist selling fire alarms, great job security.

      • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

        Give up anything to use to protect your family and yourself and you become a murder statistic. A gun can and does protect you from many evils that may threaten you.

    • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

      To make a statement such as yours’ is a lie. law abiding citizens have the righth to keep and bear rams not the mentally disabled or criminals.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/YBYYIQHBLD7BZAU6L3DC7MS4YM Rodney

        Have you ever been to a gun show i think not because if you did you would see how easy it is for a person that has mental problems or a criminal pass to get a gun by the way of private sales no background check. I know this for a fact because i sold and brought them and guess what richard i have a criminal background. so do us a favor if you don,t know what the hell your talking about shut up. also its bear arms not rams. what admendment is that or do you know

      • jointerjohn

        Irrational paranoia is a mental disability. The evils that threaten me don’t require me huddling in my house with a gun, the evils that threaten me must be dealt with through reason, logic and the ballot box.

      • daniel bostdorf

        off topic

    • daniel bostdorf

      off topic

  • http://mohammeddressup.com/ I Zheet M’Drawz

    WHEN are you folks going to start a dialog about HOW-TO keep firearms out of the hands of crazy people?

    I’m tired of the rhetoric about ‘gun safety training’ & other stupid ideas.

    How about some suggestions, as radical as they may sound, as we’re running out of time.

    Gun owners either need to get on the stick & ‘fix’ the problem or get ready to have it ‘fixed’ for you.

    I don’t know about you but I like the idea of getting guns away from screwballs & carrying a gun to protect myself from the screwballs that still have guns.

    So come’on people. Let’s hear some suggestions that’ll work for everyone AND accomplish the primary goal.

    Please.

    • grammyjill

      In Australia they had one mass shooting ten years ago. The next day the prime minister banned all assault type guns and put in a buy back program. And unlike our ban, nothing was grandfathered in. All of these weapons that were already out there were hunted down and bought back. They have not ever had another mass shooting.

    • http://profiles.google.com/attorneystoll Lem Stoll

      This article is about destigmatizing mental illness, not firearms.

    • daniel bostdorf

      OFF TOPIC

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JMT6C3LHLJDD4RX4NB4KY5ICAE gargray

    The cost to the teachers or the property owners, a weapon $500 plus a flack vest $150, mabye a helmet. I can see our teachers dressed like our solders in Iraq. Scare the kids to death, the civilian military. The NRA has a bad mental illness, and mentality.

    • FredAppell

      Hence the complete militarization of our country. That is one of the tools the Nazi’s used. By militarizing an entire generation of children it allowed the war to be prolonged.

      • daniel bostdorf

        has nothing to do with the topic of destigmtizing mental illness does it?

        You are a fool and a distractor.

        • FredAppell

          I’m not a fool, I realize it was off topic but I was replying to someone specifically, not the article. Besides, why do you care so much about what I have to say to others? I notice you said “off topic” to other contributors but you saved the insult for me. I would appreciate an explanation if you have it in you to do so without being an ass about it. You will find that I can be quite reasonable if you show me some respect.

    • daniel bostdorf

      OFF TOPIC

  • http://www.facebook.com/crzydancer Richard Holmes

    Stigmatizing mental illness? This is a cop out for the anti-gun nuts to push the disarming of the law abiding citizens in favor of the ruthless criminals. That is true insanity.

    • http://profiles.google.com/attorneystoll Lem Stoll

      You are simply irrational.

    • daniel bostdorf

      OFF TOPIC

  • daniel bostdorf

    If you want to understand this matter in a RATIONAL manner, I suggest you look up on the internet Ben Boone. He is a remarkable young man helping to destigmatize mental illness.

    Benjamin Boone shares a journey few are able to take and talk about. Boone, now in his early 30s, was diagnosed with schizophrenia the day after he graduated with a degree in writing and publishing from Emerson College in Boston. He spent spent a month at Mclean Hospital and six months at a group home.

    During the past ten years he’s been hospitalized nine times. Faced with the reality that he had a lifelong illness and his childhood ambitions would never be realized, he offered himself up as a test subject for dozens of research studies at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts hospitals.

    His book “ Minority of Mind” tells a compelling story of his life as “subject” for the study of schizophrenia and a host of other unrelated illnesses. The book is worth reading just for the inside look at medical research in Boston, but it is much more than that. “Minority of Mind” details a young man’s descent into darkness, and his daily struggles to perform as a person, rather than a manifestation of his illness. It addresses how society treats those with serious psychiatric disorders and challenges our definition of ‘madness.

    He is a successful lecturer and peer counselor and shows you what mental illness is…and more important…what it isn’t…

    Brain chemistry disorders should be treated the same way we treat Epilepsy and othet mood disorders.

    With love and compassion and medications.

    Not hate or a jail sentence.

  • http://profiles.google.com/attorneystoll Lem Stoll

    I believe you are exhibiting a form of mental illness with your irrational and bizarrely inhuman posts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.carman.12 Ken Carman

    I was with you until… “psychosis has no rights.” This is part, certainly not all, of what started this mess: why we have gone from an occasional 60s tower-like shooting to it becoming closer to a weekly event. The asylums in the 70s were horrible places: I used to visit with singing groups. Then we released them with the unfunded promise of halfway houses. Now many live on our streets or worse conditions. Or with people not equipped to handle the situation while too damn many of us blame them for something they have little to no control of.
    Of course they have “rights.” A “right” to a decent place to live and decent treatment, to not being treated like puppies in puppy mills, or the pet dropped off near a busy highway.

  • daniel bostdorf

    To all:

    This topic is about how we can go about destigmatizing mental illness, not the militarization of this country or gun control or anything else…please quit distracting readers with off topic comments.

    They are not constructive.

    From the article: “Schizophrenia is a physiological disorder of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in disordered and obsessive thinking, auditory hallucinations and other forms of psychosis…….The state and federal rules around mental illness are built upon a delusion: that the sickest among us should always be in control of their own treatment, and that deinstitutionalization is the more humane route……A liberal delusion, mainly.

    The good news is that anti-psychotic medications work; diseased minds can be treated.

    Putting somebody into a psychiatric ward for 30 days shouldn’t be as simple as a 911 call, but neither should it require the near-equivalent of a criminal trial.

    Read the book Minority of Mind and educate yourselves. Diseased minds CAN BE TREATED SUCCESSFULLY.

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