The Newtown mass murders have generated widespread demand for improved “mental health” services, and even for mandatory mental health screenings for schoolchildren. The notion embedded in these demands is that the perpetrators are “mentally ill,” and that early identification will enable psychiatrists to treat (i.e. drug) them before they can do any damage.
As I’ve said many times, the APA’s definition of a mental disorder is essentially: any human activity that entails significant problems. So, of course, provided we accept this definition, all the mass murderers are mentally ill. But all we’re saying here is that mass murder is problematic behavior. (Wow – such wisdom!)
True understanding of a phenomenon involves so much more than assigning it a label.
I recently came across an article on Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter. It was written by Arturo Garcia, and it reports that Adam (20) had been compiling data on mass murders for years. Apparently his database of these crimes contained a “score sheet” of how many people were killed in the various previous incidents, and a plan to achieve a higher “score” than his predecessors.
In other words (assuming the accuracy of the report), Adam Lanza set out to be the biggest mass murderer in history. He worked on this goal for years, keeping careful records, and even taking cognizance of those would-be murderers whose efforts had been thwarted. By any conceivable standard, he was as sane as the next guy. The only thing wrong was that he had no regard for the lives of others. Other people, to him, were objects – like clay pigeons to a skeet shooter.
The mass murders make headlines, but cold-blooded killings have become shockingly common in the United States. In today’s newspaper, there were two short articles. The first described how a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old have been arrested for the shooting death of a baby and the wounding of his mother. Apparently the mother was walking near her home with the baby in a stroller. She was approached by the two boys, who demanded money. The article gave few details, but the baby was shot to death, and the mother was shot in the leg, apparently trying to protect the child.
The second article was about two teenage girls (14 and 15) who hijacked a car driven by an 89-year-old woman. They shoved her into the trunk, and kept her locked in there for two days while they drove around.
Obviously I have no way of verifying the reports, but we read stories like this almost every day, and it is clear that there are a great many young people today who have no regard for other people, and who kill and maim other people with no compunction.
Trying to identify these individuals before they kill and main might be a useful endeavor. I don’t know. Maybe they can’t be spotted in advance. And maybe there are civil liberty issues in moving against someone on the basis that he might commit a crime.
But mental health screenings will make no contribution to this process. The call for mental health screenings is just one more opportunistic marketing ploy from pharma-psychiatry to promote their own agenda, and to expand the sale of psychoactive drugs.
The real question – the critical question – is why are we raising so many children who lack even the most rudimentary regard for their fellow human beings? What has gone wrong in our child-rearing? Are today’s parents not as interested in their children’s upbringing as formerly? Are communities so fragmented and isolative that children don’t get opportunities to react meaningfully with other children? Do children not play together enough? Is the blame-absolving message of psychiatry undermining the time-honored methods of parenting that prevailed in former times? Is it drugs? Is there too much violence on screen and video? Are there too many guns?
I don’t know the answers – but I do know that mental health screenings is not an answer. We need well-designed and well-conducted studies. We need to identify what has gone wrong with our child-rearing practices and what we can do as a society to move this in a positive direction. We need facts and evidence-based strategies. We don’t need more pharma-psychiatry infomercials!