How We Talk About Mental Health In Relation to Mass Shootings


The majority of the time we hear about a mass shooting, it’s a white male who lives in the United States living in a home with stable conditions. While everything may not be perfect, the environment as well as the people with which he lives is conducive to warmth, love, and proper development. Nonetheless, these people still go into churches, schools, and colleges and murder innocent people. And when the media covers what has happened, the response is that these murderers must have been sick and in need of some kind of mental health care because normal people just don’t go around doing this kind of thing. The murderer as a whole is portrayed as a good human being that “just got sick” or “just wasn’t right”.

Whichever way you want to slice it, this is a function of racism and white privilege. While I would love to believe that every time someone shoots up a school, it is because they are suffering from a disease that makes them act like this and that’s exactly why the media covers it and blames their illness, I know that that is far from the truth. The reason the best is even assumed of them rather than assuming they are terrible people is because they are white and because they are male. If a Hispanic young woman walked into a movie theater and killed 5 people, no one would call into question her mental health. Instead, she would automatically be deemed a horrible person and would need to take responsibility for her actions until proving to a court, and much later the media, that there was something psychologically wrong with her. Even then, this is hard to prove in a court of law and would be nearly impossible for the media, and public in general to accept.

The fact that they even bring into question mental health can frankly be very offensive. While their mental health could theoretically be called into question, most people suffering from Depression and anxiety will not act out violently toward others. Rather, they may take violent actions against themselves or engage in absolutely no violent activity at all. As a person with Depression, the fact that I am grouped with monsters who shoot up schools and destroy people’s lives stigmatizes my disease that effectively only harms me. The fact that mass media is willing to assume the best of a person because he is male and because he is white in spite of what he has done to harm others makes it appear as if all people, or most, with Depression will go outside, walk down the street and shoot up a school. The reality is that we are far more likely to stay inside and blame ourselves for things over which we had no control and over think an email we got from a professor or something with our boyfriend or simply sleep until noon. While agitation does make the list regarding behaviors of people experiencing Depression, agitation is no where near comparable to planning a shooting, securing a gun, traveling to a place with a high volume of people, and selecting targets then killing them.

There is much to say about mass shootings. There is much to discuss and we are a long way from decreasing the likelihood that this happens again. However, it is inappropriate to quickly deem the shooter “mentally ill” solely because he is white and male and not because of the fact that he did something that most people never actually contemplate doing. 

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