ALL Murderers Are Mentally Ill

Enough already.

The scenario is always the same. A horrific shooting incident occurs. There is an initial outpouring of grief and sympathy, and people actually appear to get along for a brief period of time. Then the gun control debate begins. And once that topic has been thoroughly exhausted, the discussion of the treatment of mental illness resumes.

Here’s a little secret, for those of you who didn’t know: Anyone who kills anyone else out of anything other than maintaining the law, carrying out military orders, or in self-defense is mentally ill. Period.

Stigma_FII mean, really. Do people in a normal state of mind, not acting in any of the capacities I described above, decide to strangle, stab, or shoot someone with the intent of killing them? Do people just come home from work, set their briefcase by the door, read the newspaper, and then think to themselves, “Hmm, I think I’ll kill someone tonight.”?

Murder is an insane act in itself. I guess mass murder could be defined as more insane, but should there really be a ranking scale on homicide? If I shoot my neighbor one day because his dog dug up my flowers, am I not as bad as someone who walks into a church or a movie theater and opens fire? Was I just “angry,” while the other person was “insane”?

“Mental illness” is and will always be a problem, but so is hate, anger, spite, envy, jealousy, and virtually any other trait which would persuade someone to pick up a weapon of any kind and kill another person. Should we not work on those as well? We live in a world where our leaders, our entertainers, our media representatives attempt to rile us up and pit us against each other. Is it any wonder we feel such animosity toward one another?

In our search for a reason, then, let us cease from tossing the words “mental illness” around as if they are some type of key to unlocking the why behind all of the violence we are faced with. Yes, mental illness is to blame.

What are we going to do about it?

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The Downside Of Awareness

One of the unexpected consequences of my starting this blog has been the number of friends and acquaintances who have shared their own experiences with depression with me. In the cases of many of them, I would have never guessed them to be people who would ever be affected by any type of mental struggle whatsoever. They seemed to be highly confident, outgoing, successful people, but their stories were every bit as real as my own. I just wasn’t around them enough to spot the signs.

It was with great interest, then, that I read an article today citing a report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health samhsa2Services Administration which estimated nearly 44 million Americans experienced a mental illness in 2013. To further put that number in perspective, that’s approximately one out of every five people.

That is an astonishingly high number. So high, in fact, I wondered if it was even correct.

As someone who stumbled through a large majority of his life not even knowing what depression was, I am often the first to applaud efforts to shine a light on mental illness and de-stigmatize it as much as possible. While the SAMHSA report pointed out how large numbers of people never even seek any treatment for their illnesses, however, it also notes that in nearly three-fourths of mental illness cases, the symptoms do not significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function.

This leads me to ask a somewhat uncomfortable question: Is it actually becoming too easy for people to claim they have a mental illness?

I certainly don’t want to discount anyone’s experience with mental struggles. I just know that in my own life I am deathly afraid of getting to the point where I use my depression as a crutch for everything. “Well, you know, it’s because of my depression…” I mean, I’m already sort of guilty of that now, and I find myself slipping into that defense much too easily. Could, then, these extremely high numbers indicate that maybe some people are confusing some of the normal bumps in the road of life with mental illness?

mental healthIt seems to be more acceptable in this day and age to admit to struggling with a mental illness. I was extremely worried about starting this blog, but I haven’t experienced any noticeable negative effects from it yet. I haven’t noticed anyone shunning me in public or crossing to the other side of the street when they see me. It’s actually opened some doors, in a way. With that in mind, it might be easier for someone who, for instance, isn’t very organized to say, “I think I have Attention Deficit Disorder” or for someone who gets nervous driving to say, “I have anxiety issues.” Is it becoming to easy to attach labels?

There is a certain amount of fighting involved in dealing with mental illness, but there is also a certain amount of fighting involved in just getting through everyday life. I worry when so many people are believing their minds are different from everyone else’s. Everyone has their own issues; that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has a mental illness. There are definitely those who have issues requiring extra assistance or counseling, but there are also those who are just working through all the things we all have to work through.

Again, I don’t say any of this to diminish anyone’s experiences. Maybe my concern is more personally rooted. I don’t want to reach the point where the illness defines me. I was diagnosed with a form of depression, but I don’t need to have that printed on my business cards. We don’t need to become a nation that believes it’s all messed up in the head. Awareness is one thing; over-acceptance is another.

Humans In The Bible

You have got it made. You’ve just been told you’re going to be the top dog, the big cheese, the man in charge very soon. It is destiny, and no one can take it away from you. You have all the backing in the world behind you, and now all you have to do is patiently wait your turn.

That is, until the acting boss decides he doesn’t want to give up his seat. Because of what he knows about you and your future, he decides you’re the biggest threat to his position. He knows you need to be taken out of the picture, so he decides to chase you down and kill you. You know that, though, so you go on the lam and engage in a tense game of cat and mouse for the next several years. The boss has enemies of his own, however, and they eventually take him out, clearing the path for your triumphant return.

Or picture this: You’re living in a really, really bad town. I mean, bad to the point where you’re told by someone in the know that you’re the only good person left there. So this person gives you a tip that some nasty stuff is about to go down, and you had better start making preparations for you and your family to escape. You heed his warning and put everything else on hold while you create a safe haven.

There’s only one catch, though: No one else in the town is going to make it out alive. Even if they come banging on your door for help, you’re told to not let them in; this is the way it has to be. As everything hits the fan, you can hear them dying outside – men, women, children, neighbors, friends. You have your instructions; you have to carry them out. When you emerge, all the people outside of your family that you knew are gone.

I know if I were placed in either of these situations, I would emerge more than a little traumatized. I would definitely never be the same. I might even go kinda nuts and make some poor decisions down the road. I would also probably garner some sympathy, though. The people who knew everything I went through would wonder how I held it together as well as I did, and when I flubbed up, hopefully at least one of them would call me on it and try to get me some help.

Thing is, those two scenarios actually did happen. They happened to two men almost every one of us learned about in Sunday School – David and Noah. Most people are familiar with the good stuff: David killed Goliath and was a “man after God’s own heart,” and Noah loaded his family and two of all the animals on Earth onto a giant ark to maintain a remnant of life after the great flood. Nine times out of ten, these are the stories we remember … but they’re only a part of the picture.

David’s failings later in life are probably more well-known than Noah’s, mainly because of his affair with Bathsheba. Noah, however, wound up drunk and naked in a cave, a state you would not expect to find the last righteous man on the planet in. Even when these stories are recounted, however, they are rarely with any kind of sympathy. The question always arises: How, after everything God had done for them and all the miracles they had seen, could they act in such despicable ways? How could they be so stupid?

I once heard a sermon that brought up the possibility that the Apostle Paul should not have gone to Jerusalem. After all, he was warned several times by others not to go there, and the eventual result of his trip was being taken to jail. I’m not sure if I agree with this take on the scripture or not, but the very possibility of it brought an interesting thought to my mind: People in the Bible were human beings just like you and me. They got ticked off. They got depressed. They were burned out, stressed out, and put out. Some had touchier tempers than others. Some were stubborn. I might not have been friends with all of them.

We have this tendency, though, to build these people into caricatures. They couldn’t possibly have experienced something like PTSD in those days … even though the Bible is full of wars and acts of violence. They could be depressed … even though their loved ones died, their cities were destroyed, and their prayers didn’t quite turn out the way they expected. They couldn’t have been anxious … even though Jesus made it a special point to caution them not to be anxious. These people weren’t perfect; they were normal human beings, just like you and me.

Instead of diminishing them in my eyes, this way of looking at the names in the Bible made them more relatable to me. The way God viewed them suddenly didn’t seem unattainable to me, as it had in the past. It also taught me to be less judgmental, realizing that God could actually still love a Christian in the midst of them falling apart. And, finally, it gave me hope in knowing the battles that go on in our heads today are nothing new to God. They’ve been there throughout time.

What I don’t understand is why God seems to deal differently with mental illness today than He did in biblical times, but that is another topic for another day. I only have so much time to write. I’m only human, you know.

Why?

Build hospitalAs I mentioned here Friday, my father-in law has had a myriad of health issues over the last few years. He spent a good portion of the past weekend in the hospital, and he was released to go home Sunday afternoon still not knowing exactly what was wrong with him. Could have been arthritis flaring up. Could have been an allergic reaction to something. Could have been something brand new. No one really knows for sure at this point.

My father-in-law does not deserve to be in this kind of shape. He was always very active. All of the jobs I ever remember him having involved some type of physical labor. He loved to hunt. He loved to work on projects around the house. He’s done tons of stuff for me, Mr. Couldn’t-Change-A-Light-Bulb- Without-Instructions. He took reasonably good care of himself, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. He’s not even 65 yet.

For some reason, though, he can hardly seem to string two days of physically feeling like a normal human being in a row together. Maladies such as this should have some type of reason, shouldn’t they? He should have been pounding back beers every weekend or cheating on his taxes or playing in the NFL. This shouldn’t happen to everyday people. Unfortunately, though, it does. In fact, a lot of things much worse happen to people all the time.

For example, I have a relative who is a narcoleptic. I have very clear memories of being young and watching him nod off in one of my grandmother’s recliners right in the middle of a conversation. As far as I know, he didn’t do anything to cause his narcolepsy; he just had it. That always seemed sort of cruel to me. I mean, doesn’t a guy have a God-given right just to be able to stay awake? Seems like that should be right up there with, oh, I don’t know, breathing.

How about the guy with born with Tourette syndrome who blurts out words he doesn’t mean? Or the woman born without sight? Or the autistic child who has to work twice as hard as the other kids in school just to keep up? And then there’s mental illness. How do we explain someone being bipolar, suffering from seasonal affective disorder, having a split personality, or, in my case, nursing a low-grade depression for years at a time?

There are factors that can cause some of these issues, but they can also just appear. They aren’t limited to any particular kind of people, either. Bad people, good people, rich people, poor people. “For (God) … sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” On my list of questions when I get to Heaven, the one of “Why did you make some people have to go through this stuff, God?” will be at or near the top of mine.

A wizened, more seasoned blogger would probably stop here and offer an answer to that very question. I will be honest, however, BIBLE-Joband say, “I have no stinking idea.” I’ll tell you how much this question of understanding has bugged me over the years. I may be the only person who ever read the book of Job and actually got angry at the end of it. I couldn’t understand why Job wasn’t ticked off, too. Job had a bunch of questions, but God didn’t answer any of them. I don’t know about you, but that would irritate me a little.

What I’ve noticed from reading the book more than once, though, is that Job is pretty mad nearly the entire time. And even though God speaks to him forcefully, He doesn’t wipe Job out and even blesses him in the end. Job never receives an explanation, but God does show the He was unmistakably in control of what is going on. And, as we the readers of the Bible know, He really was in control of what was going on, even if the majority of what happened to Job, well, sucked.

Again, I have no answers to the questions I’ve posed here. I have seen humans unwind themselves through medicine, therapy, counseling, even prayer alone. It took me nearly 40 years to begin to unravel some of my mysteries. I pray that my father-in-law’s questions are answered soon, and I hope yours are, too.

Sunday’s Coming

True story: It’s about 10:45 at night, and I just turned to my wife and said, “Man, I wish I hadn’t said I was going to write something for this blog every day.” Weekends with five children can wear a guy out. With that in mind, I’ll beg for your mercy and amend my earlier statement to “post something here at least every Monday-Friday.”

Just remember, though: Today is Saturday. That means Sunday’s coming. Keep an eye out for those in your church who may be on the slippery slope of a mental illness. And get some rest tomorrow. I know I will.