Author, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness
Posted: January 19, 2011 04:42 PM
- After the shooting rampage in Tucson, the parents of the
accused gunman released a statement that included this: "We don't
understand why this happened."
At this point we can only speculate what happened. There were a lot
of red flags in the shooter's behavior leading up to the incident that
indicated he was mentally unstable. His Internet postings suggested
someone really struggling, though people shade things on the Internet.
And, of course, there is that photograph of him -- head shaven, the look
of possession, lips slightly smirking.
Yet no one aggressively tried to get this young man committed.
There are a number of things that may have conspired to keep him on
the streets. One possibility is what we know may happen when many people
have information and assume that another will react. An example is the
case of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death near her apartment
building in 1964. Her cries for help went unheeded by neighbors who
heard them. Surely someone else will step in.
Another possibility is people might fear they will put themselves in
jeopardy if they intervene. Will the dangerous mentally ill person come
and get me?
Still another possibility is a person may be conflicted about
intervening to put someone away: This would be a terrible thing to do to
a person, and it should be done only if there's evidence of extreme
Or people don't recognize the signs of mental illness.
You will note that some of these possibilities turn on stigma -- that
people who are mentally ill are dangerous, that holding a person in a
mental hospital may somehow wrong the person, that failing to recognize
the symptoms may be because people don't want to admit to something so
stigmatizing to their family or friend - or even a stranger. Best to
In this case, the fallout of staying away was an act of extreme
violence that unfortunately compounds the stigma of mental illness for
all who suffer it.
Why is mental illness still so stigmatized?