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Mental Health or Hate?


As with most acts of violence that strike a nerve in our society, there have been many discussions and publications on the triggers for the most recent tragedy gaining global recognition. The big questions have been, "Are these acts due to mental illness or hate/racism?" Many people have taken a side on this matter, claiming that one's skewed morals and values cannot be mistaken for mental illness, whether because it "excuses" the behavior or "stigmatizes" mental illness, which already has enough stigma attached. Given that the people of our country often seem to be divided in perception and opinion, but demand we all come together, I thought I would weigh in on the matter.

The real answer to the above question of origin for such violent acts is neither mental illness nor hate; it's rancid recipe of both, with a dashes of ignorance, social norms, and lack of education and exposure to the world outside of one's own bubble. None of these are mutually exclusive from the other, nor can they be solely blamed for anyone's behavior. We all make choices. For some, these choices are well informed, researched, and meticulously executed. For others, these choices are sourced in a lack or minimal presence of information, experience, and planned process.

In a recent article, I read the claim that "most mental health professionals are not even calling this mental illness..." Well, as a mental health professional, I'm certainly not ruling it out. In fact, I know nothing about this young man, except what the media has told me. If I've learned nothing in my life, it's that I cannot openly and whole-heartedly believe everything I'm told by mass media. Why? Well, it's biased, and subject to human error. It's provided by humans, which means it innately comes with at least some degree of bias and error. Facts are based on evidence, but also in perception.

While I agree, the outcome does not change, regardless of the presence of mental illness, the cause or motivation is not entirely insignificant. In order for us to learn about, and hopefully, deter such acts, we must learn as much as possible about the motivations.

As I stated, the mass murder in Charleston, SC involved hatred and ignorance, among other qualifiers. Stating that this is an issue of mental health does not excuse or stigmatize any more than writing if off as an issue of hatred. How many racists or radical extremists have you known in your lifetime? On average, I bet we all know at least one. You may even be one. How many murderers do you know? I bet that statistic probably has a lower number for most of you than the former. Hate, in and of itself, does not lead to murder. Violence doesn't even lead to murder in many cases. The young man who purposefully and intentionally murdered the African American worship group in Charleston, indeed, experienced hate, indeed exhibited violence, but also had something much deeper present that led to such a premeditated massacre. This is where the other ingredients come into play.