“Mental health problems” do not lead to violence being perpetrated on society. A failure to manage anger does.
We need to stop calling it a “mental health” problem because that national rhetoric is stigmatizing millions of people who will never act out their “mental problems” violently on society.
Sure, a failure to manage anger might be a mental health problem, but it’s ONE type of mental health problem. Plenty of people with “mental health problems” don’t perpetrate mass shootings, or any other violence against others, for that matter.
The following list, taken from the MentalHealth.gov website, shows 14 possible signs that you might be having mental health problems. Only one item on that list is about harming others. None of the other signs of a mental health problem have anything to do with violence toward others.
• Eating or sleeping too much or too little
• Pulling away from people and usual activities
• Having low or no energy
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters
• Having unexplained aches and pains
• Feeling helpless or hopeless
• Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
• Yelling or fighting with family and friends
• Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
• THINKING OF HARMING YOURSELF OR OTHERS
• Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
It’s not “mental health” that needs to be addressed. It’s anger.
Back in 2014 after some other horrific national tragedy, I wrote a blog called “Anger, not Mental Illness, is at the root of violent acts.” Below are some thoughts from that article, with minor editing.
Here’s the thing about anger. It is, simply, energy in the body that requires discharge. There are times and places for almost everything, including the nearly-completely out-of-control discharge of rageful anger. Unfortunately, though, we are never taught that there is a time and place for the expression of it. We are never taught that ranting, raving, smashing, bashing, flailing and screaming has a place. We are ridiculed and terrorized into containing that energy rather than taught how to express it physically in a way that does not harm us, those around us, or our stuff. We are taught that expression of it is bad and that if we do express it we are bad, babyish, or stupid. This, then, exacerbates the problem.
So what do we do? I am by no means advocating violence toward yourself, others, or things. I do believe that teaching rational control and mindfulness is a PART of anger management. A big part. However, I also believe that it is our inability to express the energy of anger physically that has created the current problem we have of anger being unleashed on society. Instead of scapegoating everyone with “mental illness,” we need to acknowledge, accept and EXPERIENCE the anger that every one of us has, rather than just trying to rationally and mindfully make it “go away.” In this way, we will address the violence problem that is plaguing our selves, our families, and our culture.