Although public associations between mental illness and violence are always stigmatizing, one of the issues I often think about in respect to that problem is the presumption that people living with psychiatric symptoms lack self-awareness or a sense of responsibility toward the human rights of others. This stereotype doesn’t apply to me or to any of the people I’ve met while seeking treatment for clinical depression.
Between 2015 and 2016, the physical symptoms of depression became intolerable. All of the techniques that people use to thwart depression stopped working. I cried on the treadmill that I was trying to use to keep my endorphins up. My body felt heavy, like there were weights attached to my limbs. My mind felt “fuzzy,” as though I was trying to think through static. I found myself struggling to get out of bed and neglecting basic self-care. Random suicidal thoughts periodically “stung” my mind like a cloud of recalcitrant horseflies. Most distressing were the intense feelings of rage I felt over insignificant daily challenges. Trying to function in that condition was like swimming through mud, and I knew I needed help.
Unfortunately, my symptoms grew steadily worse. The harder my psychiatrist and I tried to ameliorate them, the more intense they got. For the first time in my life, I began to experience symptoms of mania and psychosis. Hence, after several medications and two hospitalizations had proved ineffective, I consulted with an ECT specialist. After I described my symptoms, he posed a reasonable question: “Is there a gun in the house?” he asked. “No,” I said, shaking my head emphatically.
I support his decision to ask me that question, but part of me found the idea of me having a gun in my condition so absurd that I had to fight the urge to joke, “Sure, dude! It’s right next to the cat toys!”
Although guns can pose a serious suicide risk for people with mental illnesses, they are generally associated with that tragedy, not hurting other people. Moreover, everyone that I met during my hospitalizations understood that we were ill and that we shouldn’t have firearms lying around. In fact, one fellow patient was a police officer who had given his service weapon to a colleague weeks before he admitted himself for treatment. The people I met in the hospital were there because we hadn’t been able to ease our symptoms with outpatient methods and we wanted to get better. We certainly understood that guns were not conducive to that goal.
Ergo the erroneous, unjust idea that mass shootings happen because of mental illness. I support gun control, but I often feel as though mental illness has supplanted the concept of evil in the public imagination. It is certainly possible for mental illness to cause involuntary urges to do terrible things; hence the danger of having access to a gun when one’s symptoms are flaring. However, it appears as if the mass shootings that have occurred in the last few years were meticulously planned. Average people with mental illnesses do not plan mass shootings, and the constant link that the public draws between the former and the latter is unjust. Although no one is either completely good or bad, the evil behind mass shootings is palpable. For me personally, hospitalization was a carefully considered choice. In contrast, it never occurred to me to deal with my problems by murdering other people.
The constant jump to blame mass shootings on mental illness is part of human tendency to seek answers to the inexplicable, but there is no one solution to this kind of malevolence. Gun control is positive because guns have a unique capacity to kill large amounts of people quickly and efficiently. No gun = methods that are slower and more difficult to implement. Nevertheless, evil will always find other ways to express itself, and the impetus behind the latter is evil, not psychiatric disorders.
So please, keep guns away from me. I don’t want to be around them, depression or not. Moreover, I don’t need to be hospitalized in order to understand that mass shootings are wrong. Your other neighbors who are living with mental illnesses know that too.