Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Not like us. Tuesday, January 11, 2011.

“No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! No! I won’t trust in God!” – Jared Lee Loughner

You know what we want?

We want Jared Lee Loughner to be mentally ill.

For those who might have been hiding under a baobab tree for the last three days, Jared, a college student in Tuscon, open fired in a Safeway supermarket, killing six (including a little girl and a federal judge), and injuring 14 (including Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who at this moment is clinging to life after surviving a bullet through the head).

Gone are the days when we had to wait for the next day’s newspaper, or even for the evening news. Within minutes of the shooting, the Internet lit up with pieces of a puzzle that may never be completely finished.

Was Jared strange? Did he have problems relating to people? Of this there can be no doubt. Campus police had been called five times to address concerns about Jared’s behavior, including one time when a teacher felt threatened by Jared’s reaction to failing an assignment.

He’d been having angry outbursts in class, talking in nonsense sentences, and becoming more and more immersed in government conspiracy theories. A classmate told Fox News, “A lot of people didn’t feel safe around him.”

Nevertheless, Jared obtained a gun – a Glock 19 handgun, to be exact.

Armchair psychologists around the country snapped to attention. Within a few hours of the shooting, the media was tossing the term “paranoid schizophrenia” around, even though no one knows – even now – whether Jared has any sort of diagnosis at all. The failure of the “mental health system” was blamed. TIME Magazine printed six “warning signs of mental illness” that had been ignored, allowing the tragedy to happen.

Jared smirked for the cops, and his mom and dad cried and expressed shock and grief in front of the TV cameras. Neighbors said no one knew the family very well, but it was reported that his dad drank a lot of beer and was quick to anger. Jared was said to have been a loner, a bit of an outcast, and a pothead who wore his hood up even in the hot summer.

So yes, it appears that Jared may have a screw loose. But is he “mentally ill?” Did he have no idea what he was doing, even though investigators found a note in his room that said, “I planned ahead?”

This is a case with a little bit of everything. Jared is said to be prone to “right-wing rants.” Was this about politics? Or was it about the pot? Or was it about his parents?

Come on, come on! There has to be a reason.

Through the decades, there have been killers that turned out to be demonstrably mentally ill. And because the entire point of news is to inform people of significant events, we tend to hear – and remember – more about those individuals.

But here’s the truth – if you know someone with schizophrenia, the chances of him being a violent killer are about the same as if you knew someone with blue shoes, or a wheelbarrow, or a Springer spaniel. (The chances of someone leaving your neighborhood bar being violent are a great deal higher.)

As Slate Magazine explained it:

Your chance of being murdered by a stranger with schizophrenia is so vanishingly small that a recent study of four Western countries put the figure at one in 14.3 million. To put it in perspective, statistics show you are about three times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike.

Why do we want Jared to be mentally ill? Why are we waiting so eagerly to hear the words, “Jared Lee Loughner is a paranoid schizophrenic?”

Because we’ll feel so relieved if he’s “different” somehow. Because then we can say, “Oh, it’s because of that,” and close the book.

Because we want “him” not to be “us.”


  1. I assume we will find out if he is mentally ill. But then what? Stigmas for others with that illness? I have spent way too much time defending mentally ill to let one guy ruin it for millions. Some people are just programmed to KILL for whatever reason.

  2. Luckily, the exerpt I quoted above - about the chances of being killed by someone with schizophrenia being less than the chances of being hit by lightning - is being repeated on radio and TV, at least some left-leaning outlets. Some of the media really are using it as an opportunity to point out that this is an aberration. So, ONE brownie point for that.

    But you're right - if he turns out to have a diagnosis, that's all people will hear, and that's beyond unfortunate. It will also be interesting to hear whether or not he was on an SSRI. (He WAS on pot and saliva, though.)

    My point with the blog is that many people will find comfort if he has a diagnosis, because then he is "other people" and not them. "It will never happen to me because..." It will be one more reason for stigma, as if we need another!

  3. Hi Alizah,

    Saw your comment on my FB wall about this and did up a reply last night but was unable to comment for some reason - gotta love technology :(.

    I belong to many mental health pages on FB, am a huge advocate for dispelling the myths that surround mental illness in general, do my best to bring this to others' attention as well with posts, etc.

    I'm finding that many of these pages and those I've connected with because of them, to be so on the defensive on this issue of Jared. I don't want the media and public to use this horrific loss of life as an event to increase the stigma on mental illness by spreading the myth that mental illness equates with violence, however, I also feel strongly that until Jared is evaluated, there's no need to raise the alarm just yet.

    The few times I've seen media on this, especially on TV, they've gone out of their way to emphasize that mental illness does not mean all are violent. They stress that in fact, a very low percentage of those with mental illness are violent. I also know the myth is perpetuated and no matter how much the media says very few are violent, the masses will still go with their beliefs in the myth. (cont'd on next comment)

  4. Here's the rest of my comment:

    I feel from what I've read and seen that Jared is in fact mentally ill. He withdrew from life, friends, doing what he consistently did for years that he loved, etc. He became quite dark, was totally in his own world and quite delusional - all of this leads me to the conclusion something triggered this shift and once evaluated, he will most likely be diagnosed with some sort of mental illness or a combination.

    I don't understand why this hasn't been done already, maybe it has and I've just not heard about it? If his lawyer goes for the insanity plea, then a psych evaluation must be done and it's my understanding that very few qualify to use this defense. He must be proven to not have known at the time that what he was doing was wrong.

    In the meantime until he is diagnosed, I see no need to be alarmist making assumptions and getting on the defensive. I'm one to wait for a known outcome. If he is deemed mentally ill, yes I'm sure many will lump him into the category of all mental illnesses can lead to violence and perpetuate the myth, but I also feel very strongly that this is a high profile opportunity to seize the moment to educate the masses about mental illness and raise awareness and hopefully funding too which is desperately needed.

    People always fear what they don't understand, I'm hoping that the many associations/foundations/advocates use this opportunity to spread awareness and change, not get angry, not go on the defensive - just educate.