Saturday, June 18, 2016

Psychological Lips Assign Blame

Image description: A face with the Greek letter 'Psy' often used as a symbol for the study of Psychology' as part of the lips of the person. Underneath the drawing are the words 'psychological lips.'

It's easy to demonize those who society once thought were possessed by demons. It's easy to blame those who are held accountable for things vastly out of their control. It's easy. It's lazy and it's dangerous.

I hear a lot these days about how we must not confuse those who commit violence with their membership in any other group. Individual responsibility does not mean group culpability. I have always gotten that, as a young gay man I dreaded news of another gay man doing anything, even parking, wrong. I knew I'd wear the crime, I'd hear talk of 'those homosexuals.' So. I get it. Don't do it.

But there is another subtle attribution that I find extremely disturbing. It's that I hear terms used about the man who shot up the gay bar in Orlando, terms thrown about in 'I'm an expert on these things' tone, even from those who's only qualification is that they have an opinion. They have 'psychological lips.' Those terms? 'Lunatic.' 'Crazy.' 'Mental.' 'Out of his mind.'

Why do people simply and automatically decide that anyone who acts on a heart full of hatred is 'disturbed?' I think the answer is simple. It's an easy, and I'll say it again, lazy explanation that makes everything better for those who say it and those who hear it. "Ah, he was just 'nuts.'" This allows them to stop thinking, the mental work has been done, the explanation has been found, now let's distract ourselves with the next bit of sensationalized news.

It might be irony, I'm never sure what that is, that during our week in the States afterwards we heard talk shows where people said , 'They got what they deserved.' and 'The only bad thing is he didn't finish the job.' and we read comments on news stories that spoke, with vitriol and hatred, about 'sodomites' and 'perverts' and 'pedophiles.' These same people with identical hatred to the shooter, with identical ideas of violence, all ended by speaking with psychological lips.

Nowhere do I hear protests about the propensity of the public to diagnose and prescribe solutions. Let's do this to those with mental health issues or concerns. Let's do that to those with mental health concerns. Let's go after the people who didn't actually do anything. More than that, let's fear those who display any kind of behaviours that makes us question their mental health, us being experts after all. Let's work on silencing all those people who do have mental health struggles. "Dave, that guy who write that blog, I hear he has trouble with depression and anxiety, best stay away from him, maybe not hire him to speak at a conference."

Let's think for a second about this idea that people who do bad things are people who are made bad by mental health struggles. Hmmmm. I grew up in a school where I was bullied and teased on a regular basis, where I had to find hiding places where no one knew where I was just for a moments respite. Hell, I get it now, every day I go out, every day I spend any time in public. Those people must all be needing a diagnosis, a whack of therapy and time locked up in a ward somewhere. I'd be walking empty streets, and schools would be out of business for lack of business. Cruelty exists separate from diagnosis.


Oh, they need education, you say.

So the two ways we explain cruelty and violent action are 'ignorance' and 'mental illness.' Um, let me tell you that the people who bully and the people who hurt others simply because they can, are not 'ignorant' of what they are doing. And the suggestion of training is blaming the victim ... 'well if you weren't so damn different we wouldn't have to train people that hitting you, hurting you and calling you names, is wrong.' Stop.

Let's consider another reason.

The heart has the capacity to love deeply, it has the capacity for passionate, passionate love. We know that.

Well, it also has the capacity to hate, to despise, to vilify, to want to annihilate others. People who are 'in need of training' or who 'need time with a therapist' don't have a greater capacity for hatred than anyone else. They simply don't.

I fear that authorities and those in the general public will be running after people with mental health concerns with 'solutions' while those who simple hate deeply, slip by. The capacity to hate is a normal human trait.

Now that hatred is going to be targeted at a group, or in this case a couple of groups of people, who simply don't deserve it. Lazy thinking will lead to social violence. Exclusion. Fear. Isolation. Things that can have impact on a person's mind, heart and soul.

Let's root out hatred.

Let's confront it.

Let's be clear that no one group, no one person, is more capable of hate than any others.

Let's look for it in ourselves.

Didn't someone once tell us to take the splinter out of your own eye first? I think that's pretty good advice.

Oh along with, shut up with the mental health reference will you?


Frank_V said...

Well said.

CapriUni said...

Blaming all acts of extreme hatred on mental illness is doubly evil.

First, it demonizes real people with actual mental illness, who are already more likely to be the victims of abuse, rather than the perpetrators, and

Second, it’s an attempt to blatantly lie about the racist, violent, propaganda these politicians are peddling in the hopes of getting more votes and more power.

Omar Mateen was not, and Thomas Mair is not, mentally ill. Their acts of violence were well thought out, and executed with cold, calculating, rational, deliberation.

Because they believed the arguments and justifications put forth by the leaders of the political parties they belong(ed) to, their acts were sane in the extreme.

Just because someone is wrong does not make them crazy.

Unknown said...

You are correct, we are so quick to find labels and answers and then move away from uncomfortable truths.
There are several types of psychiatric diagnoses - groups of diagnoses - and most people do not know this, much less grasp the significance. The names have changed over the decades, and some 'labels' have been dropped altogther, such as homosexuality.
I don't know the most recent terminology, but what used to be called 'personality disorders' are patterns of behavior that are relatively fixed by adulthood and are generally not responsive to 'education' or 'counseling' or medications. The debate of how much of these disorders are shaped by nurture and how much by nature is ongoing.
For a psychiatric explanation from someone who knows what she is talking about, check out the blog "Everyone Needs Therapy'. Written by a clinical social worker in Chicago, her posts are easily understood and clinically sound.
The bottom line is that personal responsibility exists and when you are a legal adult your behaviors can have legal repercussions. Some mental illness is severe enough to erode the ability to control behavior, but it is rare. Clairesmum

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

The people who perpetrate horrible massacres against innocent civilians are organized, plan for a long time, and know exactly what they are doing.

They are evil.

Most mentally ill people don't have that capacity for organized action and thought, and thus the defense of 'not guilty by reason of insanity' does not win very often.

It is not to say that some mentally ill people aren't evil, or that some evil people aren't mentally ill.

But we should not be quick to reach for 'psychological' excuses or even explanations for carefully-chosen behavior.

CHOSEN behavior. With malice aforethought. And rabble-rousers hoping someone else will do the dirty deeds they don't quite dare do (or fear the consequences of).

Ettina said...

As a psych major who has actually done a lot of reading on criminal and violent behavior, I think it's important not to jump from the spurious connections the media makes between certain conditions (psychosis especially) and violence, to the opposite extreme that violence is not linked to any mental health issues. In reality, the vast majority of violent individuals have conditions such as PTSD, depression, substance abuse problems, personality disorders, etc. And many times the 'choices' they're reviled for making are heavily influenced by factors outside of their control, such as upbringing, genetic tendencies, prenatal environment, and the combination of these factors. And only by admitting and addressing these issues can we really make people safer.

Purpletta said...

Ettina, correlation does not imply causation. There are numerous studies that refute your claims. The stigma caused by public misstatement of supposed facts & pejorative commentaries does serious damage to the social status of people with mental illness, increases violences AGAINST people with mental illness, and serves to further marginalize a talented & contributing group of people. Incidentally if we want to compare studies, people who have mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of a violent act than the perpetrator.

Ron Arnold said...

"Let's go after the people who didn't actually do anything."

Sadly though - it happens all the time. You and I both know it. And 'government' tends to capitalize on an event (or better yet creates a problem where there was none) to do just that.

Ettina Kitten said...

Purpletta, 90% of prison inmates qualify for at least one diagnosis listed in the DSM. That's a fact.

Now, if by 'mental illness', you mean 'psychotic disorders', you're exactly right. But truth isn't that people who do these acts *aren't* mentally ill, it's that they have *other* conditions, not psychotic disorders.

The specific conditions that are most common in perpetrators of violence are:

narcissistic personality
borderline personality
substance abuse/addiction

Obviously, not everyone with one or more of these conditions is violent. For some conditions the majority aren't violent. (Very few people with depression are violent, for example.) But these conditions are *definitely* more prevalent in violent perpetrators.

As for correlation not equalling causation, sure. But we can't assume it's *never* causative, either. And for some of these conditions, treatment studies have found that reductions in symptoms causes reduced rates of violent recidivism. (Substance abuse has been the most extensively studied here.)

I don't have time to post the study links right now. But I've certainly read many studies supporting that.

I also have 2 1/2 of the conditions (PTSD, depression and borderline tendencies) on that list, and I'm not violent. But I can understand why those conditions could be associated with violence.

Purpletta said...

Ettina, Those of us who have mental health conditions could do well to at a minimum support the efforts of people like Dave to help correct misunderstandings by the pubic. It is that much more important for "us" (people with disabilities, people with mental illness, people with labels that set us apart, advocates for one another) to support a positive social status for all people. To do what we can to shed the stigma that follows us. The unjust stigma. The stigma that knocks us down. The stigma that hurts. And causes hurt. Deep heartfelt emotional trauma. And physical harm, bullying, death. There is no need for us to try to bolster the case of those who cast the stigma. Better for us to pull ourselves together to help the world know that people who have disabilities, mental illness (all that sets us apart) are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, neighbors, teachers; they are you and me; they are equal members of the community; Not those to be feared, to be vilified, to be likened to those who do horrific acts of violence. We deserve better.

Ettina Kitten said...

I don't think one inaccurate statement should be rebutted with another, equally inaccurate one.