On Sunday, June 12 a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. It’s being called the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The perpetrator has been identified as Omar Mateen. In an attempt to explain this tragedy, reports have said that he had ties to ISIS.
But it never stops there. It was inevitable. Reports started coming out that Omar Mateen was bipolar and “mentally unstable.” Of course. Of course he is. It’s bad enough that a mass shooting happens on a semi-regular basis in the U.S., but it’s even worse when every single one of them are attributed to some form of mental illness. He was Schizophrenic. Bipolar. Depressed.
Well, I’m really tired of being lumped in with people who commit atrocious acts. I have bipolar disorder and I have never taken a gun and gone on a shooting rampage. In my worst mania or depression, I have never even had a violent thought. And then there are these comments: “Of course he had a mental illness. You need to be crazy to do what he did.” Well, I’m also really fucking tired of people equating the word crazy with having a serious mental illness. We’re not fucking crazy, we’re sick.
Let’s go over the facts about mental illness, violence, and more specifically, gun violence. First, experts have reported that “people with a mental illness like schizophrenia or severe depression are no more likely to commit gun violence than anyone else.” Second, people with a mental illness are no more violent than anyone else. Third, a person with a mental illness is actually more likely to be a victim of violence rather than a perpetrator of it. You heard that right. A VICTIM OF VIOLENCE.
The media often portrays those of us suffering from a mental illness as dangerous or scary and when reports allege that a shooter was bipolar, or more commonly, schizophrenic, we start to equate these illnesses with violence. This in turn furthers the stigma about people with a mental illness. The underlying message is that a psychotic break makes someone go on a shooting rampage. But, violence and psychosis, hallucinations, or paranoia don’t go hand in hand. Someone who is receiving effective treatment for their disorder is no more prone to violence than anyone else.
So can we just stop blaming mental illness on mass shootings already? Mass shootings are a complex subject. The truth is, we’re too quick to jump on the “of course he was crazy” bandwagon. Instead why don’t we talk about how issues like misogyny, bigotry, and radical religious beliefs (Christian or Islamic) are often at the root of these mass shootings? Because it’s just easier to say that “he was crazy” and continue on with your day.
I didn’t want to write this piece because I was afraid of co-opting a tragedy from a community that is still in grief. But, the reality is, LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. LGBTQ people are at a greater risk of having mental health problems than the general population. So, blaming this shooting, or any other, on mental illness further stigmatizes an already marginalized community and I think that’s worth talking about.