By David Trend
“The more I became immersed in the study of stigmatized mental illness, the more it astonishing to me that any such phenomenon should exist at all,” writes Robert Lundin, a member of the Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research. “I believe that serious and persistent mental illnesses, like the one I live with, are clearly an inexorably no-fault phenomena that fully warrant being treated with the same gentleness and respect as multiple-sclerosis, testicular cancer or sickle-cell anemia.”[i] Here Lundin names a central of problem in the social construction of mental illness: the misunderstanding of conditions affecting the mind as somehow different from other biological illness. The misrecognition renders mental illness prone to the judgmental attributions discussed by Susan Sontag in her 1973 book Illness as Metaphor. To Sontag, contemporary society reverses ancient views of sickness as a reflection of the inner self. In this new view, the inner self is seen as actively causing sickness––through smoking, overeating, addictive behavior, and bad habits: “The romantic idea that disease expresses the character is invariably extended to exert that the character causes the disease–because it is not expressed itself. Passion moves inward, striking within the deepest cellular recesses.”[ii] But as before, the sick person is to blame for the illness.
Such sentiments are especially vindictive when a mentally ill person commits a crime. Understandably perhaps, clinical terms like “mental illness” quickly acquire malevolent meanings in the public mind––even though the mentally ill statistically are no more prone to criminality than anyone else. Sometimes this semiotic slippage causes public panic over commonplace disorders. Consider the case of Adam Lanza, the young man who in 2013 shot 26 children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts. While mental health analysts speculate that an acute psychotic episode prompted his violence, Lanza never had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. As reporters scrambled for a story, much was made of Lanza’s childhood symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. The repeated mention of this disorder in news coverage triggered wrong-headed fears nationally of the murderous potential in other autistic kids. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1 in 50 people (1.5-million) fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum, 80 percent of whom are boys.[iii] This has prompted improved diagnostic measures, which in turn have resulted in an apparent rise in autism cases in recent years––up 78 percent from a decade ago––and made autism a source of acute anxiety for many new parents. Continue reading “Stigma and Mental Illness”
Parents of children who commit crimes receive little support and are typically scorned or otherwised blame for the actions of their offspring.
This simple and tragic reality is discussed at length by Andrew Solomon in his book Far From the Tree in relation to the family of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold. Stunned by the actions of their son and his death, the Klebolds saw no memorials and received no sympathy, and instead were subjected to a decade of abuse and torment – which continues to this day. Today the LA Times reported a similar story beginning to unfold for the family of the young man who committed the Sandy Hook murders”
“The body of Newtown, Conn., shooter Adam Lanza was claimed by his father last week, a family spokesman said Monday. Continue reading “Adam Lanza’s body quietly claimed”
Until cooler heads prevail, for the time being we will be living through a war-of-positions on game violence. Despite the absence of empirical evidence linking media violence and real world “effects,” a moral panic atmosphere is rising throughout the U.S. But as this recent essay by Steve Benen points out, nations where people play plenty of violent video games don’t seem to share America’s predilection for mass shootings. Reproduced below is an except from Benen’s article as it appeared on maddowblog.
“Plenty of officials, including folks like Joe Lieberman, have been arguing for years that violent games desensitizes young people to violence and contributes to a larger corrosive effect on the culture.
“There’s just no evidence to support the claims. Hunches and cultural criticisms notwithstanding, there is no science to bolster the contention that gaming and gun violence are connected. (Adam Lanza was reportedly obsessed with “Dance Dance Revolution” — which is a game, as the name suggests, about moving feet, not shooting weapons.) Continue reading “Looking beyond game violence”
“Among the details to emerge in the aftermath of the Connecticut elementary school massacre was the possibility that the gunman had some form of autism,” reports todays Los Angeles Times
“Adam Lanza, 20, had a personality disorder or autism, his brother reportedly told police. Former classmates described him as socially awkward, friendless and painfully shy.
“While those are all traits of autism, a propensity for premeditated violence is not. Several experts said that at most, autism would have played a tangential role in the mass shooting — if Lanza had it at all. ’Many significant psychiatric disorders involve social isolation,’ said Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Autism, she said, has become a catch-all term to describe anybody who is awkward. Some type of schizophrenia, delusional disorder or psychotic break would more clearly fit the crime, experts said. Continue reading “Autism is not linked to violence”
The essay below was written by Lisa Long, not the actual mother of Adam Lanza, but a woman whose son has some of diagnoses attributed to the young man who committed the recent murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The essay is about the complexities of living with and caring about a child whose behavior makes parental love a challenge.
“Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.
“‘I can wear these pants,”’ he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.
“‘They are navy blue,’ I told him. ‘Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.’ Continue reading ““I am” Adam Lanza’s mother”