Bev, Harriet and Joyce

My mother, Janet Alice, was tremendously vital to whom I have been and to whom I have become. Three other mothers, Bev, Harrriet and Joyce expanded my concept of motherhood. These women were also role models to me for becoming the best mother I could be:

It is possible.

As a mother, I want to see a world
with less competition
and more cooperation,
Less exploitation
and more mentoring,
Less meager and more real funding,
for services and education benefitting
mothers and children …

Every day of every year.

Bev, Harriet and Joyce were mothers of children with serious mental illness. I met Bev and Harriet first. They were the co-founders of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Dane County, which began in Madison, WI in the late 1970’s. The Madison, WI affiliate birthed the national organization.

Bev was driven to be an advocate for people with mental illness. She wanted essential services and better health care for those most seriously affected by a mental illness. Harriet wanted the same. Bev had a gift for advocating …  fiercely. Harriet’s gift was communication. She was a very fine journalist.

Bev and I got to know and respect each other. She was active physically and mentally throughout her life. Indeed, late in our relationship we discovered her north woods Wisconsin cabin was just a few miles from our families north woods cabin!  I recall the day Bev told me she and I were alike; committed and bold in our NAMI work, be it public or private. (Being alike meant occasionally we were at odds in terms of what we thought was best for people with mental illness.)

Harriet and I became friends through our commitment to leadership and writing. After I had written an article for the NAMI Dane newsletter that was respectful of parents of children with mental illness, she began to trust me. We admired and loved each other. I smiled when I entered her retirement apartment. The bookcases were filled, every inch. She and I were both avid readers. Harriet and her husband had an agreement: neither of them would buy another book until they gave away one of their current books. 

Joyce entered my life in 1993. When told by physicians that she was the cause of her daughter’s mental illness, she rebelled! It was common practice by MD’s and others to blame mothers for their children’s mental illness. Alas, my mother told me my paternal grandmother was thought to be the cause of my fathers recurrent depressions.

How did Joyce rebel? She obtained a PhD in psychology and began a private counseling practice. After gaining experience as a psychologist, she taught families in her home state, Vermont, how to help themselves and help their relatives with mental illness. She conceived and wrote a 12 session Family to Family Education curriculum. Initially Joyce gathered families together in the homes of people like you and me. Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters talked and listened to each other. For most of the men and women attending the classes, it was the first time they openly discussed mental illness and the challenges they and their well and affected family members faced. It was a blessing and a comfort to express their concerns in an unguarded manner. To problem solve. To grieve … and to rejoice together.  

The Family to Family program expanded. Wisconsin was the thirteenth state to get onboard. Lucky thirteen. Eighteen people gathered in a very small room for a three day training to learn to teach the Family to Family program in Wisconsin. I was one of the eighteen trainees. From those nine sets of teachers, the program expanded to 100 sets of teachers, as of 2013, when I retired. Becoming educated on mental illness was and continues to be life changing for me … and for people throughout the 48 states of the continental United States.

Here’s the rub: Many mothers like Bev, Harriet and Joyce are thrust into the role of advocate, educator, support person, and major caretaker. 

Sometimes for the entirety of their lives.  

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

… I was inspired to think carefully and in depth on motherhood’s impact on children’s development by the writing of Anna Malaika Tubbs in her book: The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped A Nation.

Asian American Mental Health and Illness, May, 2021

“From a very early age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts or behavior tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.”

    – Ai Weiwei, Chinese Contemporary Artist and Activist
     (as quoted in: The Botanical Bible, Sonya Patel Ellis, 2018)


When Jim and I were first married, we had three friends of Asian descent. 

Shu (S-h-u) was from Taiwan. Shu was serving an internship with me – I was her perceptor as a practicing registered dietitian; Shu was an intern. Two other friends were a Korean. They  were a married couple, Mr and Mrs Bae.  Jim worked with Mr B.

Shu and Mrs Bae were excellent cooks. Both women were my earliest introduction to the interaction of food, culture, politics and the limitations imposed by authoritarian regimes. Shu was from a rich family. Mr Bae’s family was poor. 

Mr B and his generation were small due to the poor diet imposed on Korea during WWII by the Japanese. In contrast, as a child, Shu C. had all the food she desired to eat. Once her skin turned livid orange from eating so many fruits rich in beta carotene, a form of Vitamin A!

The most tasty, authentic, and intriguing Asian meals Jim and I have had the pleasure to eat were those prepared by Shu and Mrs B in their home and in our home. Mrs B.along with her 1 year old son, lived with us for several months. During that time, we ate …  oh so well. To this day, rice is as frequent at our table as potatoes and pasta.  As we raised our children, we ate with chopsticks, every dinner. And Jim and I still eat with chopsticks. Eating with chopsticks is aesthetically pleasing. Chopsticks are quiet and clean. There is no clanging of silverware during conversations.  We use Korean/Japanese sculptured chopsticks.

Ah, you did not know there were different types of chopsticks? And many varieties of rice?

Do you know that Asian people do not all look alike? They do not!

Everyperson, everywhere is unique. 

I am thankful for our uniqueness.

I am thankful for our commonalities.

Hate of Asian Americans and all Asians is on the rise. The shrinking of the white male majority in America, the history of WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the loss of jobs and industries to Asia, especially China, and the many misconceptions about Asians, have blighted the wonderful assets many Asians have brought to America and the world.

A tiny sampling of those accomplishments: 

Mya Lin, the architect of The Vietnam Memorial Monument. Amy Tan, the writer. Chien-Shiung Wu, the nuclear physicist … and so many others. Can we forget the laborers who constructed the transcontinental railroad, many of whom were Asian? Athletic stars such as the NBA’s Jeremy Lin, and linebacker and coach Eugene Chung. …Or quarterback Kyle Murray, whose mother is half Korean and whose father is African-American (Love it; wow!) Finally, my children’s and grandchildren’s friends, who are ethnically much more diverse than my generation’s cohort. I Think of bonsai and the art of flower arranging, ikebana. Forms I hope to learn to enhance my floral arrangement skills. The most exquisite scarves I have ever worn are shiboru, a three dimensional form of folding, stitching, and pleating, all in silk, created by Suziki Kanezo of Japan. These shiboru drape over my shoulders .. under my long hair … so gracefully. 

***

Shame dominates as the most hope and life- killing force on earth. 

For many, death is better than enduring shame. 

Ask me and ask my father.

For all of us, shame comes from stigma. 

My Dad did not seek mental health care and neither do many people of Asian descent. Suicide of young people, ages 12-24 is greatest in Asian-Americans!  Stigma stems from the fear of being identified as disabled. Societal norms and values place a premium on our ability and actual performance towards taking care of one’s own family  and in contributing to our communities.

I do not believe there are many differences here in the things that shamed my father, Asian Americans and myself. For myself, I feared I would not be able to care for our two children and be a loving wife to my husband Jim. All those fears were not in evidence, but they all overshadowed my thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  For my father, I do not know his shames, although once committed to a mental health hospital, and with the possible loss of the family farm just one serious consequence of this, I believe he endured shame as a life sentence. He never discussed his feelings, but lived through many serious suicidal depressions and suicide attempts. 

Asian Americans live with the stereotype as the model minority. The myth goes like this: Asian Americians are fully-integrated, intelligent, industrious, and have overcome racial bias. Individual Asian people feel pressure to meet these standards and expectations.

 The pressure to live up to the image as a model Asian American results in the denial of any  letdowns, failures, pain and loss … all of which we all experience or will experience. The drive for perfection can kill. I know the drive for perfection too well, and the toll it takes on family and on oneself. Thinking perfection will cure everything … can be fatal.  

Talking about mental illness/mental health challenges is taboo for most Asian Americans.. As it was in the family into which I was born and was raised.

Let us all be more than tolerant to one another. Let us begin to trust, admire and appreciate each person.

Let us share a spirit of gentleness and work toward a better society.  Many times song expresses what we have not ventured to put into conversation:

 “ Tale as old as time, true as it can be, barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly. Just a little change, small to say the least. Both a little scared, neither one prepared …  Tale as old as time.”

Thank you kindly,

Gail Louise

(Lyrics by Alan Menken 1991)

Mothers Day, 2021: A Tribute to My Mother

Sunday we celebrated our grandson’s 16th birthday as well as Mothers Day. The birthday boy and his sister, children of our oldest child and her husband, our son and ourselves met at a local park and had a picnic. We laughed, ate really good food, and hugged each other often as it was the first time in over a year all 7 of us were together. 

My mother, Janet Alice, knew both our grandchildren before she died. I remember my Mom’s delight at our grandson’s first birthday party.  Born on May Day, his birthday party was an outdoor potluck. Our granddaughter was born four years later on Valentines Day …  6 months before Mom passed. Our daughter made sure to visit Mom at Hospice with the new baby girl well before my Mom’s final days.

My mother taught me many things.

  •  She helped me learn how to read.

Picture this:  She was tired. It was evening, after preparing a big dinner and after doing dishes by hand. Perhaps it was 8 pm. Mother and I sat on the floor of the dining room, to be near the heat register. The book was the traditional “See Dick Run, See Jane Run.”

  •  She taught me how to sew. Mom was a skilled seamstress.

Famously, she sewed the black wool cape I wore to a Big Ten University Homecoming Dance with my husband to be, in 1967. The dress was red velvet, enticing to the eye and soft to touch.

Twenty years later our daughter was invited to her first prom. The prom dress needed alteration. By this time my sewing skills were rusty so we enlisted the help of a tailor.  When our daughter donned the prom dress and the black cape, the tailor marveled at the quality of the cape my mother had sewn.

  • She instilled in me a desire to have beautiful handwriting. Every time she signed her name, she wrote carefully, be it a check, a greeting card, or a gift tag.

    … And she had a long career as a bank teller.

When senior citizens needed to cash or deposit their Social Security check, they lined up deep at my mothers window.  My Mom would serve all patiently and carefully, so they could visit briefly with her and she with them. She was astute. Mom recognized an older woman customer was about to be cheated out of a large amount of money. She alerted the supervisors of the bank who advised the elder customer appropriately. The woman’s money was not stolen.


My Dad had major depression. He could be very verbally abusive. He belittled my mother frequently, in front of all the children. I never heard or saw her defend herself. To this day, I remember vividly watching her cry in silence while sewing.

Dad attempted suicide four times: in the mid-1950, 1968, 1972 and 1979. Perhaps there were more than four times. I will never know. I never asked.

Neither did I ask her how she got through all this.

After my Dad passed in 1996, Mom began a new life for herself. She painted. She learned how to write stories describing and illustrating her past and current life. Mom began to decorate the Christmas tree the way she preferred. In fact, she invited her grandchildren to help her assemble and decorate the tree. She was talented with houseplants and arranging home decor. Mom also worked out at Curves several times a week. She became more physically fit while chatting with the younger women trainers. She had more fun.

It is extremely challenging to be a relative to someone with a serious mental illness. Did her parents advise her to divorce my Dad? – They did not approve of my Dad or my Dad’s parents. What unwanted remarks did her siblings make? Did she think of divorcing my Dad? 

My Mom remained married to my Dad to keep our family intact, even though she lost some love for him. I know this was so as she told me.

I believe for her, staying married was the right thing to do.

Thank you, Mom.

Gail Louise

The Personal IS Political!

Folks, data on women with depression is skewed. 

As I read the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, published in 2019, I was startled to learn women are prescribed antidepressants more often than men … Two and a Half times more often than men!

Why?

It is not that women report having depression more often than men, as many of us would assume!  A 2017 study discovered that men are more likely to report having symptoms of depression than women.

Even now in 2021, we assume women are the “ weaker” sex. Therefore, we assume they need treatment for depression and anxiety more than men. Physicians prescribe antidepressants, for example, for skin pain in women, where men will be prescribed pain medication for skin pain.

So why are women given anti-depressants when they are not depressed? Physicians are socially biased and influenced also.  

  • Women are prescribed antidepressants instead of pain medication for pain.
  • Women are prescribed sedatives for pain instead of pain medication for pain.

Yentl syndrome is at work. Still.

What is the Yentl Syndrome? The Yentl Syndrome describes the phenomenon whereby women are misdiagnosed and poorly treated medically unless their symptoms or diseases conform to that of men.

This is the heart of the matter: Research on most illnesses have been done on men. Female bodies are not afforded the same degree of medical attention as male bodies. 

In addition, sometimes people say, women live longer, so women do not need the same amount of medical research. Check again. Mens longevity has increased along with their years of good health. Women live on the average only 5 years longer than men now. But those 5 years are often burdened with ill health and disability! Women are the sex as elders who more often need assisted health care

And even if women did live a lot longer than men, why would less research into women’s health and well being be justified? What !!!

We must all become more political.

During your health care appointments:

  •  Ask uncomfortable questions.

How much published research, not only clinical experience or reports, have specifically included women in all aspects of health, be it dental, physical or mental?

  • Go elsewhere if you do not have a health care provider who is willing to answer uncomfortable questions. 

I hope this is an option for you. 

Before your health care appointments:

 Research your health issue, be it something that needs addressing now or is a developing or a preventable condition.  

(It is strikingly obvious to me the more I prepare for my health care appointments and make it clear to the physician I am prepared by coming with written questions and background information, the more RESPECT I obtain from the physician. I get better treatment and more options presented to me. My goal is to be on equal footing with the health care team be it mental, dental or other physical health care. )

If we persist with less data on women’s health, things do not look rosy for women.

If we persist with less research into the health of Latina, Black, Asian, Indigenous and other minority groups, things are still darker.

— Let us remember and celebrate all of us —

Thank you kindly,

Gail Louise


  • The book Invisible Women, Data Bias in A World Designed for Men was the Business Book of the Year in 2019 by the McKinsey and Company Financial Times, the winner of the 2019 Royal Science Book Prize, a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and The Orwell Prize, and longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellencein Nonfiction.
     
  • Antidepressants have been life-giving for me in the past. I advocate for antidepressants to be prescribed judiciously and for limited time periods. 

We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For … A posting for March 8th, International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day began in the early 1900’s.

Today is International Women’s Day, IWD, an official holiday in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China ( for women only ), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar ( for women only ), Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.

Notice the United States and the United Kingdom countries are not on the list. Neither are the often enlightened Scandinavian and other European countries. Nor Latin and South America. Nor Africa. 

Unbelievable. It is 2021 after all. Not the Dark Ages. 

Perhaps.

You may ask why I am writing about gender equity? 

For the good of all of us. You and me.

COVID has increased unfairness to and damaged the lives of women of all ages, all around the world.

  • Women account for 70 per cent of frontline workers, yet women are left out of many COVID-19 response and recovery plans, according to the World Economic Forum, 8 February, 2021 survey.
  • Just 20 percent of the WHO emergency committee are women. And there is other ongoing damage exacerbated by COVID 19:
  • Domestic violence is rising
  • Women are taking on more duties at home, again

47 million women worldwide fall into extreme poverty – living on less than $2 a day – in 2021 they are over-represented in hard-hit sectors, such as domestic and restaurant workers, per the UN. All this has been made worse by our global epidemic. 


How have the women in your life been affected by COVID?

How have the women in your life been affected by gender inequity?

What will be the consequences for  your children and grandchildren?


Women make up fewer than 10 percent of national leaders worldwide.  Behind this eye-opening statistic lies a pattern of unequal access to power.

Being elected and staying elected to leadership positions is paramount for positive change to occur in the lives of all citizens, for the good of all.

Women promote equal access and distribution of resources and better health care to all – medical, dental and mental. Women must design and conduct research to insure that research will be with women as subjects by women physicians, public health doctors,  and epidemiologists. 

Do you know that most research of disease has been done exclusively on men? 

Do you know that most research on other mammals, say mice for example, is done on male mice?

It is undeniable that the female body is different from the male body, functions differently, recovers differently, not just in regard to our reproductive health but we differ in other body systems as well.

So to learn more about gender bias and why there are not more women in leadership roles, I will be reading from my copy of Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons,  published in 2020, by Julia Gillard, former Prime Minister of Australia and Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela, Nigeria’s two term Minister of Finance.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela is now head of the World Trade Organization.

Other contributors are: Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister to three terms in New Zealand and still Prime Minister, who gave birth while governing, Thersa May, Christine Lagarde, Michelle Bachlet, Joyce Banda, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Erna Solberg and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The GOOD NEWS is the vast majority of men and women around the world expect their leaders to take action to advance gender equality.



In closing, I offer a poem written in commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who, in 1956, marched to protest South Africa’s racist Pass Laws and presented at the United Nations, August 7th, 1978
A Poem by June Jordan ( 1938 – 2002 )

Poem for South African Women

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
fertile
even as the first women whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptisimal smoke where yes
there will be a fire

And babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open
eye

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

We are the ones we have been waiting for

Let us all be the “Sweet Company ” 
Thank you kindly.

This poem can be found in “ We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner LIght in A TIme of Darkness ”  by Pulitzer Prize author and human rights activist, Alice Walker, 2006. 

Reality

Some people say they are Christian and attend church, but that does not mean they practice the teachings of Christ.

Some people say they are family men, but if their super bowl team does not win, they bash their wives, partners, and/or children after the game.

Some people say “I’m just joking”, but the jokes are at the other person’s expense. Witnesses are silent.

Some people say, I love you, or sign their cards, Love …. But their love is conditional. Their love has terms, expectations, and demands.

Some people say they love their spouse/partner then criticize what the person wears in clothes, the color of their hair, and what they say and do. In front of others. Sometimes in front of others of the same family. Witnesses are silent.

Some people say they gave a lot to others. They wanted, expected, and sought gratitude. And object loudly when they do not get the gratitude they wanted, expected and sought.


Reality check.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

I See Clearly Now

I see clearly now. I understand clearly now.

Sexual assault is the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s all about power. I have power, you don’t.

And power concedes nothing.

Sexual abuse, assault and harassment are acts of conquest, subjugation and violence.

Sexual abuse, assault and harassment are crimes, regardless of the law and the verdict.

When I reported the crime to my parents, they had a meeting with the criminal.

An apology was rendered to my parents. Never to me. 

When I spoke of the crime to two men, I was greeted with silence. One man was a professional helper. The other man was a loved one. Not even a glance my way.

Yes, they heard me, but they choose not to acknowledge what I said to them. They gave me no sympathy. There was no sharing of the raw hurt, humiliation, and outrage I felt.

My outrage grew.

Maya Angelou said, people will not remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel. 

I give financial support to shelters for abused people and organizations working to end abuse, incest, sex trafficking and other forms of sexual violence.  Please join me.

Thank you kindly,
Gail Louise

The Subtleties of an Illness: Depression

This past month and a half has been pretty darn difficult for me. Depression descended and stole all the beauty of the lovely fall season.  It terrorized me and made me feel helpless and without hope. I was close to losing my compass in life.

Depression does this by altering my thoughts, behaviors and feelings. It is powerful, life altering; so  sadly and tragically that it can kill by suicide. During depression my feelings are mistaken and flawed. Instead of knowing that I am capable of meeting life’s daily challenges, I feel overwhelmed by them. Getting dressed, for example, is an achievement. What? Why? With depression all little decisions are magnified and threatening. Choosing what to wear on a ordinary day is fueled by anxiety that whatever I choose, I will choose wrong. The negative thoughts that occur with depression are very real. Frequently, those  negative thoughts whisper that all is wrong with my life and my family’s life.  The thoughts and feelings attack my fundamental beliefs and values.

With beliefs and values shaken, depression is left to achieve a stranglehold on my mind.

Sadness pervades.

And I feel especially saddened for those who lived with depression before effective medications were realized and discovered. It was harder to live with depression back in the decades of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  People with depression, or those who had had a nervous breakdown, were thought of as weak, or lazy or both. Lacking in character. Deficient.

Today we have become more open-minded. We know depression is an illness. Before long scientists will uncover exactly what gets tangled in the suffers brain. And luckily, we’ve found new medications that can be life saving.

My new medication will become active in about 3 weeks. Please understand that 3 weeks to me sounds like an eternity.

Understanding families and friends do ease the experience of depression, but In the meantime, I will endure and live through a bit of hell.

Note On Preventing Suicide

Suicide is preventable. Truth is: most suicidal individuals want to live; they are just unable to see alternatives to their problems.

Truth so true: When I was 32, I was severely suicidal. I could see no end to my problems. The pain was all consuming and unbearable. My anxiety level was very high. I could hardly hold my hand still. Death seemed the only way out……..Yet, I really wanted to live.

My husband was a fierce and loving support. He asked how I was feeling. He was there for me, helping me connect with professional treatment. He kept me safe and supported. That someone who knew my worst thoughts about myself accepted me, warts and all, was invaluable. Most of all he taught me to have hope in life again.

The experience of being suicidal at that time and at others times in my life has created in me an empathy for all those who attempt or commit suicide.

Here are some principles of suicide prevention, principles that are used by prevention specialists across America. Please learn them and commit to suicide prevention.

# BeThe1To

If you think someone might be considering suicide, be the one to help them by taking these 5 steps:

  • ASK
  • KEEP THEM SAFE
  • BE THERE
  • HELP THEM CONNECT
  • FOLLOW UP

Be Aware of the Warning Signs

Hopelessness

Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge

Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking

Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out

Increase in alcohol or drug use

Withdrawing from friends, family and society

Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time

Dramatic mood changes

No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life

Here is some advice for responding to someone in despair and considering ending their life:

(From Mental Health America of Wisconsin)

Do:

  • Be aware. Learn the warning signs.
  • Get involved. Be available. Show interest  and support.
  • Ask if he/she is thinking about suicide.
  • Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow for expression of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental.

Don’t:

  • Debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings good or bad.
  • Lecture on the value of life.
  • Dare him/her to do it.
  • Ask why, as this encourages defensiveness.
  • Act shocked. This creates distance.
  • Be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer glib reassurance; it only shows you don’t understand.

Offer:

  • Empathy, not sympathy
  • Hope that alternatives are available

Take action:

  • Remove means!
  • Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE

               1-800-273 talk (8255)

               suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mass Shootings and the Myths that Arise

The recent mass shooting has lead me to serious consideration of the relationship between mental illness and violence. I’ll share what I have learned from my studies with you.

Four Myths Arise After Mass Shootings

One: Mental Illness Causes Gun Violence

Two: Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens

Three: Because of the complex psychiatric histories of mass-shooters, gun control “won’t prevent” mass shootings

Four: US mass shootings “prove” that we should fear mentally ill loners

All four of these assumptions are incorrect, though understandable. Research by Dr. Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeisch finds that an isolated focus on mental illness is misguided.

In their article [1]“ Mental Illness, Mass Shootings and the Politics of American Firearms”, the two researchers analyzed data and literature linking guns and mental illness over the past 40 years.  The result of the research: most people with mental illness are not violent.

Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the US between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.

Misdirected Blame

“There are 32,000 gun deaths in the United States on average every year. People are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends or acquaintances that they are by lone violent psychopaths.” Metzl and MacLeisch stated “We should set our attention and gun policies on the everyday shootings, not on the sensational shootings because there we will get much more traction in preventing gun crime.”

Mental Health Screenings Cannot Predict Gun Crime

Psychiatric diagnosis is in and of itself not predictive of violence. In fact, the vast majority of persons with serious mental illness do not engage in violent acts [2]. Those with mental illness are far more likely to harm themselves and frequently find themselves victims of violent crimes. [3].

Signs to Predict Gun Violence

If we focus on mental illness, we ignore those other factors that do predict gun violence more broadly:

  • Drug and alcohol use
  • History of violence
  • Access to firearms
  • Personal relationship stress

“People are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends, enemies or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths“ [2].

What we can pay more attention to, as a nation, and as local governments, is the quality and availability of mental health care, medication, and health insurance.

“In a way it is a failure of the system often that becomes represented as a failure of the individual“ [1].

Sources cited:

[1] Mental Illness, Mass Shootings and the Politics of American Firearms
[2] Mental Illness is the wrong scapegoat after mass shootings, experts say
[3]  Gun Violence and mental illness: Study addresses perception vs. reality

– Gail Louise