In a rare display of common sense and insight, Fox’s Megyn Kelly clearly offered some facts and questioned misperceptions about mental illness as it applies to heinous acts like the killings in Colorado. Over the weekend she repeatedly asked two legal analysts about whether the killer was mentally ill and whether the killer could fake mental illness in order to set up an insanity plea at his trial or as a way to lessen punishment during the penalty phase, providing he is convicted (Remember, despite the overwhelming evidence, he is innocent until proven guilty.). Both guests were steadfast in saying he is definitely not mentally ill and an insanity defense was pure poppycock.
It is hard to believe, and virtually unheard of, that people who kill in such numbers are not mentally ill to some degree. People, even mentally ills ones, don’t usually commit mass murder for the thrill or “fun” of it. Something drives them to it like the terrible demons in an ill wretch’s mind.
The short answer to the, “could it be a fake” question is yes. Clearly the gunman is very intelligent, the act carefully planned, and he had some expectation of his survival. The guests believed that since there appeared to be rationality to the planning and execution of the shootings the shooter must unquestionably be faking insanity. There is no such sureness in cases like this.
The Appearance of Rationality Not the Same as Being Rational
My grandmother and mother were both schizophrenic and my sister is bipolar. I’ve had years of up close and personal experience with the severely mentally ill and the doctors who treat them. The first thing I can tell you is the appearance of rationality is not the same as being rational.
Despite the widely held notion that mental illness is a simple off/on switch – you are either psychotic or sane – nothing could be further from the truth. Street corner screechers notwithstanding, many severely mentally ill victims are not always continuously psychotic. It is not unusual for them to slip in and out of psychotic periods.
Even in the grip of full psychotic episodes, they may appear perfectly rational depending on how that plays with their delusions and self-protective needs. This is one thing that makes it so difficult to get them help or successfully complete therapy.