The Thing About Mental Illness and Mass Shootings

[Content Note: Disablism; misogyny; gun violence.]

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that most Americans believe mass shootings "are more reflective of problems identifying and addressing mental health issues than inadequate gun laws. In the poll conducted after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school last week, more than three-quarters, 77 percent, said they think more effective mental health screening and treatment could have prevented the shooting."

There are so many problems with this position, not least of which is that the Parkland School shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had been in psychiatric treatment, which clearly did not prevent the shooting.

I have already written a lot about how problematic the focus on "keeping the hands out of people with mental illness" is:

December 2012: "In Pursuit of Doing Something Meaningful."

December 2012: "An Observation About Mental Illness."

January 2013: "Today in Terrible Ideas."

November 2013: "The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons."

December 2013: "And What Is the Cost of Demonization?"

May 2014: "Welp."

December 2015: "Not Enough."

January 2016: "The President Takes Executive Action on Guns."

I won't repeat myself on this subject yet again. I will only make this one observation, which I am sure I am not the first person to make: There is no mental illness that causes someone to pick up a gun and start murdering people, and only affects men.

To believe that the primary issue regarding mass shootings — and thus what should be the primary focus of any solution — is mental illness is to believe that there exists a mental illness that almost exclusively affects men.

There is not.

However, toxic masculinity is a thing we could talk about. And should.

The erasure of women is one of the most pernicious and enraging pieces of misogyny in any patriarchal space. But the erasure of women, specifically the erasure of mentally ill women, in this particular construct is comprehensively contemptible. Not only is it misogynist and disablist, in service to notions that abet gun violence, but women are routinely accused of being "crazy" in every conceivable way and for every conceivable reason in every other aspect of our lives.

We are "crazy," we are "insane," we are "hysterical," we are "emotional," we are "irrational," we are every euphemism for mentally ill under the sun, we are "psycho bitches."

But when it comes to mass shootings, suddenly women are so uniquely sane that our failure to have the mystery mental illness that causes "people" to pick up guns isn't even remarkable.

We're crazy when men need us to be crazy to avoid accountability and we're sane as the day is long when we don't want to talk about toxic masculinity or access to guns.

I am a woman with mental illness, and I flatly refuse to be disappeared in service to this narrative. I exist. And so do millions of other women with mental illness. If mental illness is the primary issue, then why is only men who are picking up guns?

Just stop.

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