The past week has been a trying one for our entire nation. We have watched the debate about firearms and their place in our society devolve into lunacy, with those afraid of a police state advocating for one to prevent one (yeah, my head aches too.) If there is any silver lining in this dark, dark cloud it is that we have finally started to have some real discussion about how we need to improve access to mental health care in this country.
This is why it worries me to see the reactions of some social justice bloggers on this issue. I am not talking about the justifiable outrage over an ill-considered call for a national database of the mentally ill. I am referring to those that suggest any connection of the mass killings to mental illness is oppressive to the neuroatypical.
I have to say, I like that term, it helps fight the stigma attached to mental health issues, and that is an important part of the fight. This knee-jerk outrage, however, helps no one. Yes there are other aspects of this problem worth discussing: race, gender, class, the availability of firearms, our violent culture, but mental health needs to be a part of the dialogue. These men (and yes, it is almost always men) have often, if not usually, had problems that may well have been addressed before they hurt others.
No one is saying all those with mental health problems are violent. The vast majority are not. I am not. I have had my struggles with mental illness. There are, however, a small minority that could be diagnosed in time if not for the stigma attached to mental health care. We implore people to change their diet, exercise more, go to their annual or biannual physicals, but we do not encourage people to make a habit of checking their mental health.
I understand that there is still a lot of cultural education to be done in regards to mental health issues. That does not mean, though, that every mention is a slight, and frankly making it into one only undermines our cause. I find myself wondering how many of these people actually are neuroatypical and how many are just white knighting, championing us to prove what good people they are.
Hey, I do social justice blogging too. That is ninety or more percent of what I do here, but it has to be done with reason, depth, and real empathy, not just the self aggrandizing empathy of self-righteous “allies.” To infantalize us, by suggesting our delicate sensibilities might be shattered by being compared to monsters is at least as much an insult as what you are “protecting” us from and does nothing to solve the real issues we, and our entire society, face.