Sam Dylan Finch+ Your Authors @samdylanfinch Words on mental health & being human. 🌦 Writer. Optimist. Gentle soul. 🍓 Editor @Healthline, Columnist @Greatist 🌿 Aug. 04, 2019 3 min read + Your Authors


1. “Mental illness” does not mean “violent behavior that I don’t understand and want to (ignorantly) explain away.”

2. Mentally ill people are MUCH more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators.

3. Racism is not a mental illness.

Mental illness is referring to behavioral and emotional conditions which cause distress/impairment to the person living with the condition.

A mass shooter that espouses white supremacist ideology and made the decision to carry it out is not suffering from a mental illness.

Similarly, any kind of violence inflicted on another person isn’t necessarily caused by mental illness just because it’s incomprehensible to us as outsiders.

Hatred, rage, and a desire to overpower others... abusive behavior is not the same as having an illness.

Even if every psychiatrist woke up tomorrow and decided to create a label for mass shooters to describe them as being ill... it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand.

We have no known “cure” for profound violent and antisocial tendencies, which points to harm reduction: gun control.

Because we do have proof that nations with profound access to highly lethal weapons are more likely to have mass shootings than nations that don’t.

We do have proof that some weapons are more destructive than others.

We do have proof that these things make a difference.

And if the proliferation of mass shootings is the only reason you’ve begun advocating for mental health care, I’m wondering where you’ve been.

Because our mental health system has been in dire shape for a long, long time.

It’s also important to note that help-seeking behavior plays a pivotal role in mental health care and recovery. And folks committing acts of mass violence are unlikely to seek help even within the best care systems.

I’m all for increased access to quality mental health care.

But it will not make a dent in this epidemic of violence because it’s not an epidemic caused by mental illness in the ways that we understand it, and certainly not in ways that we have evidence of successfully treating.

I want to add this to make it very clear: When we’re talking about white supremacist violence, we aren’t talking about individuals anymore. We’re talking about a system. So when I say “gun control as harm reduction,” it is ALSO not the answer to the larger systemic violence.

And if we keep talking about this about JUST the perpetrators — be it taking away their weapons or getting them mental health care or whatever — without addressing the systemic and historical roots... we aren’t actually addressing it meaningfully at all.

So what I’m trying to say here is that no matter how you look at it... mental health care is not harm reduction, and while gun control is to a limited extent... none of that actually confronts the big picture. And that bigger picture is overwhelming white and overwhelming male.

(Also: If racism were a mental illness — which it is NOT — I wonder why these same white folks won’t say their ancestors were sick. And I wonder why they won’t say they are, too, since you can’t be saturated in this culture and not internalize that shit. /Rhetorical. I know why.)

And by the way, if this were really about mental health, we’d see those most impacted by mental illness — ie marginalized communities — as perpetrators the majority of the time.

Yet we don’t. Because it isn’t about that at all.

You can follow @samdylanfinch.


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