September is Suicide Prevention Month. And so, here is a bit about gun violence and suicide and mental illness.
If you want to make a serious impact on reducing gun violence deaths, you need to target suicide.
Fun facts about gun suicides!
They are over 90% (some say 95%) effective!
Gun suicide is the most common method, accounting for more deaths than all other methods combined (and this isn’t even counting homicides that most people believe are suicide. For example, suicide rates in African American communities are extremely low, but homicide rates are higher than average. Most experts believe that suicidal people in these communities put themselves into a situation to be murdered as a way out. Similar logic applies to a significant proportion of motor vehicular accidents).
They reduce the average time between ideation and action from an average of 3 minutes to less than 30 seconds (making it much easier to stay committed).
There is no back-out option! You pull the trigger you are dead. You can’t puke up your pills, or wrap up your cuts, or untie your noose.
Males are much more likely to choose a gun as a method, pairing this with the first fun fact you can guess which gender is ‘better’ at completion.
Suicides have outpaced homicides via gun for decades, but since the early 1990’s homicides have been in steep decline while suicides have remained steady. And since 2000, homicides have dropped to their lowest levels in history while suicides are at 40 year highs.
We are currently in a suicide epidemic, and while suicide has always been a young man’s game (white man to be specific), we have much higher rates of suicide amongst all age groups now, 40% of all suicides are completed by people over the age of 60.
Gun related suicides have risen nearly 18% since 2003, a good portion of that since 2007 (you can guess why).
Suicide now a top five cause of death for all age groups under the age of 55, and a top 10 cause for all age groups.
Having a gun in the house, regardless of how it is stored, increases the risk of suicide 17 fold.
Okay, enough of that. All of that stuff could fold easily into an argument against allowing mentally ill people to buy a gun.
But it shouldn’t.
Not even in the slightest.
I wonder if it should even be a consideration.
And here is why: less than 5% of all gun related homicide in the USA is committed by someone with a mental illness, diagnosed or evaluated post-hoc.
5% (That’s less than the ratio of mentally ill people in society, by the way, meaning that mentally ill people are less likely to engage in gun violence than their mentally healthy counterparts).
Most of this talk, about mental illness and mass shootings started in the same place where our collective consciousness went online about these things: Columbine. Eric Harris was on anti-depressants. And a lot of the conversation surrounding the event was about the role that this medication could play; and if not the medication itself, then the illness being treated. This hasn’t stopped. Last year in Charleston, the topic quickly shifted away from racism and white nationalism (the clear culprit) to mental illness and psycho-tropic medication. In fact, I wrote a blog about it.
And those two events are not alone. Orlando, Charleston, Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, all had strong ties to mental illness, almost all of those tied to schizophrenia specifically.
And I believe there are two strong biases at work here. Our society gets a lot of opinions from movies, which have never once depicted any mental illness accurately. And our society places a large stigma on mental health care and especially psycho-tropic medications.
I’ll cut to the chase on this one quickly because I have other things I want to talk about: the largest factor of all mental illness is depression, which makes you withdraw, remain alone, and often very tired. And even the non-depressed versions of these illnesses often facilitate reclusiveness. If the illnesses don’t do it themselves, the medication almost certainly will. Most people on pills just feel sleepy a lot. Most research points out that mentally ill people are actually less violent then their healthy counterparts in society. And if you think about your own experience, that is probably true in your mind too. Ever see a bar fight, or really violent road rage? Was it started by a fidgety guy in the corner who couldn’t make eye contact with people, or the lunk desperately trying to prove he isn’t defined by his small penis?
Now, it might be fair to say that these murders are socio-paths, anti-social personality disorder is a possibility. Basically, this term means he was a socio-path. And it is really easy to look at someone who would go on a killing spree and label them a socio-path. But this is not mental illness. That might be surprising to you but most shrinks do not consider personality disorders to be mental illness. In fact, entire countries like Britain have gone ahead and said ‘no’ on this classification issue.
Has mental illness played a role in gun violence? Of course. Does it play a significant role in gun violence? No, not disproportionate to the population at least.
Blaming the gun problem on mental illness would eliminate at the most 5% of murders. And that is good, certainly, but not really the problem. Blaming the gun problem on mental illness will most likely stigmatize the disease further and less people who need help with get it.
Violence comes from violent people, regardless of mental health. That is pretty simple.
But if you do want to expend energy on mental health reform, then let’s attack the suicide problem that is consuming the country.
Of course the obvious question here is this: if you place a ban on gun ownership for mentally ill people, doesn’t that lower the suicide rate as well as the murder rate? Absolutely it does. But that argument isn’t mental health specific, right? So why make it out to be? It is simply bigotry working its way out. People obviously cannot handle the thought that ‘normal sane’ people would murder a slew of innocent lives; they must be crazy to do that! But that isn’t reality. And trying to legislate gun ownership based on a false reality is not the right thing to do.
But what about suicides? Even if gun ownership doesn’t lower homicide, it would lower suicide, right? I mean read the first 500 words of this essay. Sure, in theory yes. But it is difficult to legislate that, and I’m not sure that suicide should be against the law.
But there is also this fun fact: it is estimated that between 10-30% of suicides are committed by people without mental illness. Whoa! I bet you never thought of that before, because a little bit of that bias sticks in your brain. Of course people commit suicide without being mentally ill, but we don’t really think about those people. In 2008 suicides went through the roof, and a lot of that were people who lost all of their money on the crash and their house was under water and so they thought they only had one way out. What about all the people we have read about over the last year dying by suicide in jail cells? The list goes on. Money is a more common thread in suicide than mental illness. Just some food for thought.
Maybe better ways of fighting poverty, better access to cheaper mental healthcare, and less stigma would be far more effective ways to lower the violent gun crime rates than one size fits all, complete lack of nuance legislation that does more to perpetuate stereotypes and hide real problems then find solutions.
You wanna talk about gun violence and mental illness? Then let’s get real.