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Did Mental Illness Drive Gabrielle Giffords Shooter?

Gabrielle Giffords Arizona Shooting

Did mental illness contribute to the tragedy in Arizona?

An image is beginning to emerge of the man who shot Gabrielle Giffords. Jared Lee Loughner lived with his parents. He recently withdrew from college at Pima County Community College after five run-ins with campus police over his disruptive behavior. He posted ominous videos to the Internet, and he was behaving increasingly erratically.

More than a few people have called him crazy.

They don’t just mean crazy in the casual sense. They mean that Loughner is truly, severely mentally ill.

On the one hand, it’s hard to argue that any sane person would indiscriminately shoot over a dozen people in a public gathering. On the other hand, one doesn’t wish to chalk up to mental illness what might really be attributed to malice. Loughner’s strange behavior before the attack certainly suggests he was becoming unhinged. Maybe he’s schizophrenic, as the nice ladies at Slate have said.

Of course the legal system will have to sort out just how sane Loughner really is. From our armchair psychologist perspective, perhaps the best we can do is use this as a teachable moment for reflecting on our assumptions about mental illness.

Over at Ain’t Yo Mama’s Blog, Aimee focuses her Mental Monday feature on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of incipient mental illness. It’s important that we all know this, she says, so that we can work to get help for those we care about before they become a danger to themselves or those around them. Aimee also explains what your options are to intervene and get help for someone, even when they don’t want it. No one wants to think about having their loved ones committed, but if someone is severely sick, making that emergency call could save a life.

At Double X, they take on the issue of stigma against mental health patients. Yes, mental health issues carry huge stigma. It should be easier and more socially acceptable to talk openly about all sorts of mental health problems. But doing away with stigma doesn’t mean doing away with caution.

A large Swedish study claims that the mentally ill are no more likely to commit violent crimes than the rest of us. The actual data suggest otherwise, though. Emily Yoffe makes a pretty convincing case that being severely out of touch with consensual reality leads to violent crime, at rates shockingly higher than those in the general population.

That doesn’t mean you should assume your coworker is toting a pistol in her purse along with her anti-depressants. It does mean that Aimee is probably on the right track suggesting we should all be able to recognize the warning signs of a mental health crisis.

Photo: iStock

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