Newtown, Conn. Shooting – God Forgive America

A psychotherapist's thoughts on the tragedy in Newtown CT.

The Newtown school massacre was only a few days ago. So much has already been said that I hesitate adding more words. We all try to "make sense" of something like this, but that is a fool's errand. We can try to anticipate or protect ourselves from evil, but it will never make sense. The murder of 26 innocent people, most of them children, is nothing if it is not evil.

While the murderer might also have had a mental health diagnosis, it was secondary to his criminality. Research shows that individuals with a mental health diagnosis alone are no more likely to be violent than individuals without a diagnosis. It is character (personality) disordered people who kill.

I noticed a yard sign yesterday that said "God Bless the Victims". It also said "God Bless America". I love my country. I hope I love my country enough to hold it accountable. I would hope I love myself the same way. I think the sign should have said "God Forgive America".

If we had the will, we would find a way to stop the carnage. We have come to worship the Baal of gun violence.  Repentance is in order. And true repentance always involves action.

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John Q. December 17, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Wow you are amazing. Three days of news stories, not a single FACT about the gunmans motives, and you are able to determine it was not caused by his mental illness but instead his "criminality". Please just shut up.
pat December 18, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Yes, John Q., she is amazing and with an LCSW, I'd say she knows what she is talking about.
Ridgewood Mom December 18, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I think that you are missing Susan's point. The issue is that many are attempting to stigmatize mental health diagnoses, in general, on the basis of this incident. They are, quite obviously, trying to do this for the purpose of deflecting attention from the obvious problem of inadequate gun legislation. As Susan said, "individuals with a mental health diagnosis alone are no more likely to be violent than individuals without a diagnosis." Whether last Friday's shooter had a diagnosis or not would have had not meaningful bearing on the statistical likelihood of such an event occurring. The issue is better understood to have, in part, been attributable to a lack of adequate support for mentally challenged and/or socially wounded people. And also, to the case of a neurotypical mother's penchant for LEGALLY collecting devices that were designed to kill and harm people. There is a true social pathology to be examined there. Had she not been allowed to own those guns, legally, this incident would not have happened. And that rings true regardless of this shooters particular mental/psychological composition.
Brian December 18, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Personally, I would be much more interested in a mental health care provider's suggestions for how we can improve/fix the obvious problems in our nation's mental health system. That seems to be at least part of this conversation. Even if the take is that homes where people diagnosed with mental illness should not be allowed to own guns. That would be an interesting discussion.
Rock December 18, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Ridgewood Mom While I understand where you are coming from, I think the issue with Susan’s piece is that she is stating with certainty that the killer’s mental health was secondary to his criminality – and then backs it up with a statement about research that shows there is no link. To me, when she says “individuals with a mental health diagnosis are no more likely to be violent than those without a diagnosis” – means a 50/50 proposition. That is, no more likely either way. So, a violent person is just as likely to have a mental issue as not. John Q was calling her on that statement (I think). And, since none of us know the facts of the case, how can anyone make a conclusive statement like that? I do agree with Susan’s point about being accountable for what happens next. We need some honest debate about stronger, consistent gun control, and mental health care….and most importantly, how those 2 issues intertwine – which is the point Brian just brought up.
Susan Donnelly, LCSW December 19, 2012 at 12:05 AM
The thoughtful, well-reasoned comments here are worthy of note. I'd like to think we could have a civil conversation like this on the national scene, one focused on addressing a multi-faceted problem. As the former Chair of the Bergen County Mental Health Board, I saw funding for mental health care steadily eroded by federal, state, and county government. Restoration of adequate funds, and hence care, would contribute to early identification of violent individuals. However, the significant majority of individuals with a mental health diagnosis are peaceful people. The constant coupling of mental illness and violence stigmatizes them and adds to their suffering. Mass murderers are more likely to "suffer" from an absolute sense of entitlement, belief in their own victimization, narcissism, lack of empathy, and a craving for fame, albeit infamy.
Ridgewood Mom December 19, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Thanks for your informed insight Susan. I came across this article in the NYTimes yesterday: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/opinion/dont-blame-autism-for-newtown.html It makes a similar point, I think, about how some persons conceptually bucket together diverse forms of "mental illness" along with criminality in the most unfortunate of ways.
Brian December 19, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Susan, would you support a law that allows people who are diagnosed as bipolar or schizophrenic to sign a kind of living will allowing designated family members to have them committed? A problem I have seen in my own life recently is that when adults are having a manic break they cannot be committed if they do not agree. The problem is that they are in the middle of an episode. The people around them can do nothing about it besides sit and watch in horror. The only alternatives are to have them arrested, if there is a crime/danger. That is not a solution. We should work to create a living will type document that the person signs when they are of their right mind to designate specific individuals to care for them when they are having an episode? It would be tremendously helpful for caregivers and would save lives. This is a free piece of legislation that would start to solve a real problem.
John Q. December 19, 2012 at 02:12 PM
More liberal babble that always seems to end with insufficient government funding. I repeat my initial post (which Rock was able to figure out), but would like to point out a flaw in your "funding" argument, Adam Lanza's mom lived in a million dollar home and had alimony of $289,000 per year. One more tidbit of information for the liberal crowd that always cries for more government money, when you place your house in a trust to avoid paying for your own nursing home care, it takes money away from other government programs.
Ridgewood Mom December 19, 2012 at 04:59 PM
John Q., Again, you are missing the point. The likelihood of a person with a mental disability committing such crimes is not greater then the likelihood of a person who does not have a recognized mental disability. Generally, and in reference to the topic at hand, mental health is not a meaningful determinant of violent behavior. We are all just as likely to get shot up by your mentally average John as we are by a person that has been diagnosed with a mental disability. You very well may not like paying for taxes, nor for the government to invest in its citizens, but providing assistance to persons with disabilities ensures not only ensures a more compassionate society for all. It also ensures a more functional society for you.
Susan Donnelly, LCSW December 20, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Brian, such a procedure does exist. It is called a mental health (or psychiatric) advance directive. It exists in a variety of formats and is easily obtainable.


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