AUSTIN TEXAS, Charles Whitman: America's First College Mass Murderer

I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me.

This is the 5th post in an ongoing series. Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Good morning firedogs, and happy Tuesday. Apologies for missing last week. I had some personal matters to attend to. Huge thanks to chicago dyke for filling in.

We’ve considered many different aspects of the gun problem in America. We now turn our attention to mental health.

Much of the gun violence in America goes unnoticed. Individual victims receive a brief mention on the evening news, and a small story on the bottom fold of the local rag’s front page, unless they’re in a major metropolitan area. Then the victim is lucky to get a mention on page 2 of the local section. Many times these victims are young and poor, and often they are African-American or Hispanic. Our media doesn’t care about these folks, and the world moves on, never having known who or what its lost.

The stories we do hear about, the images plastered all over the national news, are the spree killings and massacres. Sandy Hook. Aurora. Virgina Tech. Columbine. These are all part of the American Tapestry. Stories woven into the hearts and minds of all of us. Pictures and interviews with family members of the victims are plastered all over the print media and airwaves. Creepy photographs of the shooters are blown up for all to gaze at in terror and awe, and printed on every website and magazine. We hear about this shooter‘s autism* and possible personality disorder. We hear about these shooters‘ depression and suicidal thoughts. Or this young man‘s mental illness.

As a nation, our attention is always held by these spree killings and massacres. Most Americans seem to find some macabre pleasure in hearing every last detail. This woman gave her life to shield a child, that man tackled the shooter, this perpetrator got rejected by the Army. Every detail, no matter how minute, or how gory, is water cooler conversationr fodder. All our friends and coworkers have heard the latest news. Everyone is following the aftermath of the school shooting du jour. The average individual craves information when these shootings occur. We want to know. We want to understand. Because we fear. Somewhere, within 6 – 8 hours of the initial eports of the shooting, the same question is on most tongues: How did this happen?

The answer to that particular question is always complicated, and never revealed in full, in my humble opinion. There are many factors, and each perpetrator’s or suspect’s case is unique. One thing, however, is certain; most of these spree killers have been treated for, or have been suspected of having, a mental illness.This information very rapidly comes to light after a spree shooting or massacre.

The topic for the media, within 2 to 3 days of the shooting, must then pivot to blame. Why wasn’t the shooter stopped? Why wasn’t he caught in time? Why wasn’t his mental illness treated more vigorously? Why did that crazy kid have those guns? Why didn’t we spot the warning signs and do something.

These questions are asked angrily by pundits, with much flourish and pounding of fists. They are asked breathlessly, as if a prayer or a plea, by morning show hosts and evening newscasters. These questions are always asked. Rarely answered.

The answer is simple, my dear firedogs, and has only two parts!

Part one – mental illness is heavily stigmatized in our country.

The stigmatization of mental illness in America has been discussed elsewhere by my betters.

Unfortunately, the media is responsible for many of the misconceptions which persist about people with mental illnesses.  Newspapers, in particular, often stress a history of mental illness in the backgrounds of people who commit crimes of violence.

The stigma surrounding mental illness keeps many from seeking treatment. This same keeps others from reporting suspicious or potentially dangerous behavior, for fear that their friend or family member may be labeled ‘crazy’ or put away in an institution.

The reasons are myriad, but the bottom line is clear – mental illness often goes untreated in America simply because people are afraid of mental illness. This is something that needs to be addressed and corrected if we are ever to move forward with a safer future.

Part two – our healthcare system is a for-profit industry.

In the last post in this series I talked about the National Rifle Association, and the 180 degree shift in the aims of that organization when corporate money started rolling in. Our health insurance industry is much the same. What used to be rightly called health care can now not be called such.

Make no mistake, firedogs – what we have in this country is not a healthcare system. Or health and well-being are a complex budget variable, only factoring into the discussions of the industry when they’re deciding how much to raise our rates or charge for services.

The health insurance industry in this country is not interested in treating men like Adam Lanza. The health insurance industry is only interested in profit. Unless the patient can be medicated, and continues to pay a premium and a copay on a recurring basis, the health insurance industry is not interested in the patient.

We all have our stories with regard to the health insurance industry in America. We’ve all had personal experiences where our rates jumped or our prescription coverages changed drastically. The insurance product itself has changed significantly in the last 10 years. Just 6 years ago, my health plan covered everything. All I had to do was pay my monthly premium and my copay. Now, my insurance covers nothing until I pay my premiums and spend $4,000 out of pocket. The insurance product has degraded, rotted away to almost nothing. We are no longer insured, but held in a position (by an abominable law…) where we are forced to profit the insurer and the provider while getting almost nothing of value in return.

I realize I’m rambling here, and have wandered far from topic. It’s 11:34PM and I’m too tired to go back and rewrite :) Call me lazy in the comments.

The point I’m driving at here, dear reader, is that our health insurance system is no longer in place for our benefit. Many of us are no longer receiving much-needed treatment because we either can’t afford it, or our insurers won’t allow it. Which kind of amounts to the same thing, dunnit?

Young men like Adam Lanza, Jared Laughner, and others who have recently committed massacres, now live in a country where their problems are a stigma, and the possible solutions to those stigmatized problems are priced beyond their reach. It’s a two-fold problem that breaks the backs of many, spree killer or not.

The greed-run-rampant in our health insurance industry is keeping people in desperate need from getting help. Maybe, just maybe, if we stopped making mentally ill people feel like outsiders, and if we stopped insurers from pricing help beyond the reach of those in need, we would have fewer killings.

Alas and alack! Word count, mumble mumble, *rubs eyes*. Next up, the conclusion. I’ve gone as far as I can with this topic, folks. It’s been huge and awkward, and I thank you for following me here. Next Tuesday I’ll wrap this up, and after that you can have your regular Over Easy Tuesday posts back. I promise.

This is Over Easy. As always, off topic is safe and welcome.

I’ll see you in the comments.

*Fuck everyone in the media who talked about Adam Lanza’s autism or Asperger Syndrome as if this were a mental illness. Seriously. Assholes.

Photo at top by ATOMIC hot links via Flickr.