The Charleston Massacre and Mental Health – Still not getting it

I almost broke down when I heard about the Charleston massacre. How could one person sit with others in prayer and then gun them down cold bloodedly? Why in God’s name?

And the argument immediately shifted to a flag. The immediate call was “racism”. Yes, the shooter was racist. But more importantly he was deeply and seriously mentally ill.

Just like the Danbury shooter. Just like the Tucson shooter. Just like the Aurora shooter. Just like the Virginia Tech shooter. Just like the Columbine shooters. Just like the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane that slammed into a French mountain.

They all fit the same demographic. Male, between the ages of 17 and 32, and severely mentally ill. It is usually schizophrenia and often related to the rages seen inĀ  bipolar disorder. And instead we argue about a flag. What kind of fools are we?

Severe mental illness affects approximately 6% of our population. We see it in the streets with our homeless. We see it in our jails where 70% plus of the inmates have some form of mental illness. And we see it acted out in our homes and the streets on a daily basis.

And most of us turn our backs or are in denial. We would rather argue about a flag than the improving outcomes for those with mental illness and repairing a dysfunctional mental health care system.

Some of the symptoms of the most severe mental illnesses include delusions, hearing voices, sudden rages, conspiracy theories, fear, and even catatonia.You’ve seen these enough times in the movies or in books.

Medications such as Haldol, Risperdol, Abilify and others are used to treat these symptoms. Many of them have serious side effects. They have to be adjusted regularly with many patients, and the side effects often cause patients to stop taking them.

Psychopharmacology still includes some alchemy. Science does not have all of the answers. It may never. But the earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome in most cases.

How do we deal with these young men, for they are almost inevitably male? How do we educate their families? How do we de-stigmatize mental illness so that people can get proper treatment?

Eric Hofer’s True Believer explored the attraction of mass movements to the disenfranchised and those who seek to submerge their identity in a cause; to disengage from responsibility. He looked at how Marat in the French Revolution channeled liberal aspirations into the reign of Terror and Stalin and Hitler and even Christianity.

The Merriam dictionary’s definitions of a “true believer” is a person who professes absolute belief in something or a zealot. That the killer surely is.

But this wasn’t a movement in Charleston. It was a lone, mentally ill individual who had somehow latched onto race hatred. The photos show him wearing the Apartheid South African flag and a Rhodesian flag. This goes well beyond reason.

So do we address the core issues or do we argue over flags and monuments?