Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mental Illness and Gun Control

I am not doing so well right now. I've been under a lot of stress, and a close friend is facing  cancer on top of my own personal problems, so all in all the symptoms are worse because of whatever variable that is that makes them worse, which is always an unknown thing. But I am working on it. Hearing things intermittently, living in squalor, but working on it. I continue to do my job and do it well.

What I want to talk about today is mental illness and guns. I am going to categorically state right here whether you agree with me or not, that nobody with a serious mental illness has any business owning any guns. I also fully believe that nobody else other than a law enforcement officer, if necessary, or a military person, if necessary, needs to own a gun. At all, ever. I couldn't care less about the goddamn 2nd Amendment. Guns are for killing. Automatic weapons are quite decidedly for killing. Guns that are made to shoot dozens of people in three minutes do not belong in anyone's hands. They don't belong in my hands and they don't belong in your hands, and they certainly do not belong in the hands of James Holmes who shot 70 people in a movie theater, in Aurora, Colorado last week.

I know a little bit about guns and mental illness. It isn't yet "proven" that James Holmes has a mental illness. The pundits debate whether he will "fake" a mental illness to defend himself and get away with the murders he supposedly  committed in order to become famous. But I believe James Holmes, a 24 year old bright student, is likely an individual suffering from Schizophrenia. Call him evil if you like, but I believe he has a disease like mine, and I'm not evil, and I don't kill people. Untreated Schizophrenia can lead to suicide, homicide, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and lifelong torment. Those of us who get treatment know it doesn't have to be that way, but not all of us get treatment. I am guessing James Holmes was not getting  treatment, otherwise he would have been justifiably locked inside a hospital and not out shooting people dressed up like the Joker from the Batman movies and comic books. Delusion of reference? Most likely.

What I know about guns and mental illness is what it is like to purchase one with a mental illness that you intend to use to blow your brains out of your tortured head. And that is what I did in 2005.

You don't even have to believe me. I've got some of my medical records.


IDENTIFYING DATA: The patient is a 30 year old Caucasian female who apparently has a history of schizophrenia, paranoid type, with schizoaffective disorder, major depressive type, who was admitted for suicidal ideations with a plan.                                   
       CHIEF COMPLAINT: "I just wanted to die".
It goes on to describe the patient believing she was pregnant for over a year, despite all negative pregnancy tests, the patient not wanting to take psychiatric medications, the patient, "probably joined Scientology", and the patient having not had sex in some time despite believing she was pregnant.

"The patient after that is having significant feelings of guilt and loss of esteem feeling that she cannot live like this anymore and she looked around for a way of committing suicide from internet and from reading books. She found that, the State of Florida, they do not check the background of mental healthcare or the mental illnesses before obtaining a gun. Since she found that, she bought a handgun and it was fully loaded. She was thinking about pulling the trigger. In the meantime she called her brother and expressed concern that she was not doing well and felt that she has abdominal cramps and so she was taken to (blank hospital) emergency room where then later the police were called and the patient was Baker Acted.......The patient stated that, by having a gun, it is likely that she will be successful in her attempt at an overdose, which has also been her backup plan.
        She also has some religious preoccupation, believes that she is Jesus."

These are some of my discharge summary notes when I was being transferred from one hospital to a longer term unit at another one. It was my longest hospital stay. It was the one that saved my life. It was when I was put on Risperdal and when I met my case manager, who is still my case manager today, and when somebody finally, finally told me what mental illness I had. It was my beginning.
James Holmes won't have a beginning, most likely. Just like the lives that he so horribly stole, his is gone too now. Lost to a system of underfunded mental health services, and a society loaded with stigma about mental illness and overflowing with loaded guns easily available to purchase any time. Over 8,400 people die in the US from gunshots every year. When will enough be enough already? When will it be time to start ADEQUATELY FUNDING COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH CENTERS and to start taking away assault rifles? Let me ask you, how many innocent people will die before our country will make that happen.

I can tell you how easy it is to by a gun. You walk into a store, and you fill out a form, and you pay money, and three days later they hand it to you. I had been in psych hospitals about 15 times before I bought a gun. I never intended to hurt anyone, ever, but myself, but why should I have been allowed to shoot my head off? I almost did. I held it loaded in my mouth. If it wasn't for the police taking me away in handcuffs, I would be dead right now.

But I am not dead. I am here to tell you there is hope. There is recovery. You can get better, better enough to go to college, better enough to work, better enough to volunteer, better enough to serve on boards, better enough to go to the doctor when you need to and to the therapist when you need to, better enough to never want to die, better enough to have a very healthy fear of guns. Maybe not totally better. I can't say I am doing great right now. But I am not a 30 year old Caucasian female with a GAF score of 21-30 right now like I was in 2005. I am a hell of a lot better. And I am never going back to that life.

My hope is that, someday, we will be able to talk openly about mental illness, the way we talk about dental problems, diabetes, heart disease, amputated limbs, and other health issues. Because a brain disease is not the same thing as being evil. It's easy to chalk these horrific crimes up to someone being a subhuman evil alien unlike the rest of us "good people". It's too easy. That's a cop-out. This guy is a human being, and it is our responsibility to manage this society so that all human beings, everywhere, can be safe.


  1. You are so insightful, so honest and so right Jen. This post is awesome.

  2. Great post Jen. I totally agree with you, there should be adequately funded mental health centers in virtually every community. At the bare minimum there should be multiple support groups. I keep bitching about the lack of mental health support groups in too many places across the U.S.A. I really believe that the fear behind stigma is what stops people from setting up groups. I think that is very slowly changing and that more groups are being organized and tested out, but this is a very large country, which is why it is slow going.

    Mental illness and isolation often go hand in hand. Many people can't get past it and when they don't that's when their illness, especially delusional thinking, begins to spread and take root. The simple act of speaking aloud in a small group amongst people who have experienced similar symptoms or at least listening to other people struggles and successes can change an individual's direction and perspective in the span of 60 minutes. It can also give others the opportunity to help. The more awareness the better.

    I spent so many hours alone at home consumed by my delusions. Fortunately I didn't have any training in violence; in fact, I was a victim of violence and so I abhorred even the idea of hurting anyone, but it could have been very different. So often the most violent of the mentally ill are young men, which is really not surprising considering the pressure there is for them to perform in one way or another. Our society gives a damning mixed message about violence.

  3. i agree. guns should not be given to someone who has tendencies to think about suicide ever. for their own safety thats all.
    and people with mental illness are not evil or unhuman. i wish we could get that one thing straight with everyone.

  4. I love this post so much. Guns should be outlawed to the general public, I agree. I also agree with everything you say about the shooter. 100%.

  5. Jen, this post brought tears to my eyes. I have been so upset since the shootings. Yes, my heart goes out to all the victims, so many precious lives lost or scarred. But, as the mother of a young man with schizophrenia, I can't help thinking about the shooter.

    If he is "merely" a sociopath, I have little empathy for him. I figured that is what this shooter was. But after I saw him in court, I think that he probably has a major mental illness. And if he does, I can't help but feel compassion for him (and his parents), and that is NOT a popular view. So many people online don't even want him to have a trial (so much for the Constitution). They fantasize about all sorts of torturous deaths and mob violence they want to carry out. They won't even consider the possibility that something like schizophrenia could cause someone to carry out these horrific deeds. If you suggest it, some will talk about the need to "put down a rabid dog."

    I have been so despondent. After the Tucson shootings, there was so much talk about the need for improved mental health services. But a few months later, when states started having such budget shortfalls, what was the FIRST thing on the chopping block? Heaven forbid that my son should ever commit some act of violence, but if he did, I know that he would never do it outside of a psychotic state.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you on the gun issue. Thank you for writing this!

  6. This is a fantastic post. The line that really speaks to me is this "Lost to a system of underfunded mental health services, and a society loaded with stigma about mental illness and overflowing with loaded guns easily available to purchase any time" The guns have funds and protection under the law, and the mentally ill have no funds, and no protection.

    I grew up in an area that was very, very rural. Some people hunted deer because they would go hungry without. Seriously. It made me think that people had a right to rifles. I still think that way. But I don't see why they should be so easy to get. And I don't see why anyone needs a multi-automatic type of thing, ever. You don't need 60 rounds to bring down a deer, and you couldn't eat if afterwards if you did.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land

  7. From this side of the Atlantic ~ the British side ~ American gun laws do seem bizarre.

    On the other hand, what a luxury to be able to just walk into a shop to get a pistol to blow your brains out. The more suicidal I have been, the more terrified I get of suicide going wrong. At the peak (or rather trough) of all this, I began to believe I was immortal; that no means of suicide would possibly kill me. That's a horrible way to think.

    Re faking mental illness, I have known 2 people do this. Both faked paranoid schizophrenia or paranoid psychosis. I think something like bipolar mania would be incredibly hard to fake. In fact I've never seen it acted convincingly on screen, ever. I have schizoaffective, bipolar type. My friend has the depressive type but I think her disease is different from mine. Basically she has paranoid schizophrenia with depressive episodes. Mine is more like an ultra-florid version of bipolar, with a touch of undifferentiated schizophrenia. Although I have nurtured some funny beliefs in the past, I was well aware that no psychiatrist would share them, and so "sane" enough to keep quiet about them. How the hell my last doctor (accurately) picked out the schizophrenia in me, I've no idea. I only recognized it myself by reading through stuff about it in some detail when I was well enough actually to read. Which was months after the manic episode that got me diagnosed...

    Anyway I love your blog. Take it EZ...


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