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Inside Story Americas

The mental health versus gun control debate

In the wake of the Newtown shooting, is the discourse on gun control being sidelined by a focus on mental healthcare?
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2012 09:21

The search is on for answers relating to the mass killings at Sandy Hook elementary school, but is the speculation about the mental health of the killer helpful or merely adding to the stigmatisation of the mentally ill while doing little to address the root causes of such violence?

"There is something of a tendency in the aftermath for people to be searching for ways to try and push the identity of the killer off on some other group. When the killer belongs to a racial or religious minority that's a fairly simple or despicable enterprise. When the mass shooter belong[s] to the dominant culture - a white male - the tendency is to try and diagnose him something and that involves the facts being entirely ignored."

- Ari Ne'eman, from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network 

Amid the debate about stricter gun control following the mass killings in Newtown, another issue has surfaced - that of mental illness.

Despite the absence of an official diagnosis, media speculation about Adam Lanza's mental health has centered on suggestions he was Autistic.

The solution offered by pundits appears simple: if the mentally ill could just get the proper help they need, then tragedies like that in Newtown would not happen. 

One Republican congressman, in arguing against gun control, even said: "The more realistic discussion is how do we target people with mental illness who use firearms?"

Adding to that, a blog entitled "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" went viral over the weekend. In it, the mother of an apparently psychologically-disturbed teenager described her fear that he may be a future killer, and appealed for better care.

An extract of the post read: "We still don't know what's wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, oppositional defiant or intermittent explosive disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers and counsellors and teachers and school administrators.

"Clearly, the evidence is overwhelming [that] what we have in the United States is a problem about guns. There is no evidence that our society is more violent than other developed countries or that we are more criminal. When compared to other developed countries we have far more guns - but more importantly we have by far the most permissive gun laws."

- David Hemenway, from Harvard University

"He's been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood-altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioural plans. Nothing seems to work.

"This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense."

But, the media speculation has been criticised for ignoring the facts and only adding to the stigmatisation of those with mental disabilities.

So, what role should discussions about mental health have in the aftermath of such shootings?

Joining Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, to discuss this are guests: Ari Ne'eman, the president and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network; David Hemenway, a professor of Health Policy at Harvard University; and Richard Friedman, a professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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