The opportunistic attention given to mental health

Whenever there is a mass shooting of random people, as occurs all too frequently in the US, people immediately seize on the issue of the mental health of the gunman (it is almost always a man). Some use it purely opportunistically, in order to deflect attention away from the easy accessibility of guns in the US that enables individual to obtain an arsenal of lethal weaponry with far less effort and time than it takes to get (say) a driver’s license.

The difficulty with mental health is that since all our actions are consequences of processes of our brains, the line between what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘aberrant’ is hard to draw, assuming that such a line even exists or that those words even mean anything. While someone who is clearly delusional and divorced from reality may be easy to identify, most people fall into a broad spectrum of behavior where it is hard to tell whether their behavior is ‘normal’ or not.

Taking someone else’s life is such a monstrous act that it might be defensible to say that anyone who does it is by definition at least irrational if not insane. But society does not do that because it wants to retain the option of justifying the killing of people, such as in wars or with the death penalty. But why do we jump to the conclusion that the Oregon shooter may have been of unsound mind and yet treat someone who carefully plots the murder of someone for whatever reason as being quite sane?

On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver looked at the history of how poorly we have treated mental health issues in this country and how it is often raised as a concern, not out of a genuine desire to help people, but only as a ruse to deflect attention from the fact that easy access to guns contributes to gun violence,


  1. Holms says

    “The solution here is not A, we need to do B!”
    “Fine, here’s a plan to put B into effect.”

  2. mordred says

    Not exactly the same situation but two ways mental illness has been treated in the German media has left me rather disgusted:

    Some years after a prominent soccer player who suffered from depression killed himself there was suddenly a mass of sympathetic articles on the topic, sufferers given a forum where they could talk openly about their problems etc.

    Then this year a pilot suffering from depressions crashed a passenger airliner, probably intentional. Suddenly the same news outlets painted depressive people as dangerous, asking who someone as sick as that can be given such a job, asking for psychological screening -- it was sickening!

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