The intersection of mental health and our culture of gun violence

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

As I posted yesterday, "be it resolved that this nation begins the debate about its culture of gun violence." I am not talking about gun control per se. I am talking about our popular culture that glorifies gun violence.

Just take a look at this list of Top 10 Video Games to Buy as Gifts for Christmas 2012:

The Top 10 Video Games for Christmas 2012:

  1. Call of Duty Black Ops 2
  2. Assassin's Creed 3
  3. Halo 4
  4. Borderlands 2
  5. Madden NFL 13
  6. Forza Horizon
  7. Farcry 3
  8. Medal of Honor: Warfighter
  9. Resident Evil 6
  10. Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth

With the exception of Madden NFL 13, all of these video games involve violence using a variety of weapons, but particularly guns. War and violence are at the heart of most popular video games.

There are irresponsible parents who allow young children — some as young as those massacred in Newtown, CT on Friday — to play these video games. If you do not believe these games condition children to desensitize them to violence and killing, you are wrong.* Just watch how excited a child becomes with killing their way to a top score while playing these games.

There is a fine line between fantasy and reality in impressionable young minds, especially in the emotionally immature and where mental illness may reside.

The same is true for our popular culture in television and movies. Most television dramas involve crime, and frequent gun violence. The most popular movies involve heavy doses of gun violence. I just saw the most recent James Bond movie Skyfall, because I am a Bond fan since I was a kid. I love Westerns too, which also include gun violence. And I have seen most of Quentin Tarantino's movies, which always include gun violence. His spaghetti Western remake Django Unchained opens on Christmas Day — because nothing says the Spirit of Christmas like a Quentin Tarantino shoot em' up movie (sarcasm).

Have these television shows and movies made me violent? No. But they have conditioned me to be desensitized to violence and killing. And I have represented the distraught families of victims of violent crime. Perhaps dealing with the aftermath of violent crime has made me less sensitive; it is a professional hazard for cops, lawyers, judges, and emergency room medical personnel. Certainly for members of the military who have served in combat.

Our popular culture merely reflects our real-life societal ills. Anyone who has ever dealt with CPS knows that we have an epidemic of "throw away children" who are the product of extreme poverty, alcohol or drug abuse, or physical or sexual abuse. It is no wonder there are so many young adults who are emotionally disturbed or suffer from mental illness.

But it is not just the poor. This also happens in families that are affluent and have access to mental heath care. No one is immune.

Our society does not want to address the emotionally disturbed or the mentally ill. It is viewed as a personal failing or "defect" by many. Our society would prefer that these individuals remain hidden behind the curtain, out of sight out of mind. Our society consistently underfunds preventive health care for the emotionally disturbed and mentally ill. For many, it is taboo to even seek treatment or counseling.

So if this is the policy choice we are going to make as a society regarding the emotionally disturbed and mentally ill, then we have an obligation to prevent the intersection of the emotionally disturbed or mentally ill with easy access to guns, to prevent tragedies like Newtown, CT that are occurring all too frequently.

When we combine untreated emotional disorders or mental illness with our ready cultural acceptance of gun violence in this country, we should expect to see this result.

Currently, the sale of guns is prohibited only to individuals with felony convictions or who have been "adjudicated as a mental patient." This fails to account for a large number of individuals who are emotionally disturbed or mentally ill who have never been "adjudicated as a mental patient." I am willing to bet that we all know someone in our own family or circle of friends who falls into this troubled gray area. The legal standard is too lenient. And it only applies to those who complete a background check and who are in the system. (A major flaw with the system).

I am not suggesting that anyone who has ever sought treatment or counseling should be flagged by law enforcement — that would be stigmatizing mental health care and would be counterproductive – but there must be some reasonable alternative to identifying potentially dangerous individuals short of a court proceeding adjudicating them as a mental patient. Maybe mental health professionals have some suggestions.

Sadly, it does not appear that any legal standard would have prevented the shooter in Newton, CT from engaging in his act of depravity. News reports say it was the mother who legally purchased the guns by which she was killed at the hand of her allegedly mentally disturbed son who had easy access to her guns.

But perhaps if this country begins to address its culture of gun violence and its treatment of the emotionally disturbed and mentally ill, we can begin to reduce the number of these tragedies in the future.

* UPDATE: On this topic of video games, I want to be clear that I am not making a correlation argument, and certainly not a causation argument for video games and violent behavior. I am simply pointing out that exposure to graphic violence desensitizes one's emotional response to violence. For a good discussion on "how violent crime has fallen even as videogame sales have spiked, while
social science has found no link between violent games and violent
behavior," see Not the Video Game Blame Game, Again!

0 responses to “The intersection of mental health and our culture of gun violence

  1. Yes, finally somebody posted about gun violence is part and parcel of being an American (especially but not limited to men). More than thirty years ago I read Richard Bandler’s “Frogs Into Princes” (1979) which helped me help people in Japan learn how to use English for communication (instead of just English for getting high scores on pen-and-paper tests). It worked well to change their basic mindset of what was underneath the superficial problem.

    Recently, I bought and am now reading Richard Bandler’s update, “Get the Life You Want” (2008) which updates Frogs and changes from helping others to helping yourself.

    One of the ideas that stands out is that more-or-less un-noticed mindsets from one situation carry over into other situations. I’m not up on the 10 listed Video Games but I guess they involve gun violence against Bad Guys, that is, people who’ve done bad things to others.

    When I moved back to the a small town in the Arizona desert, I bought guns, five of them; separate tools for separate problems. My basic mindset is what I learned at Gun Site — a training center in Arizona — to get my concealed weapon permit. At the end of two-days of training, we had time to shoot at targets however we wanted but when the trainer said “Stop” we were to get down on our hands and knees, put our weapon on the ground, our hands behind our head and wait for further instructions. It was a cold late-afternoon in December and the ground was wet, and we stayed in that position what seemed like a long long time. Then the trainer said, “This is what’s going to happen to you if you ever use your weapon and you had better have at least $10,000 ready for the lawyer as you yourself cannot decide if what you did was murder or self-defense; that’s decided in court.” That’s my mindset for carrying a concealed or un-concealed weapon.

    However, according to the last two events, there’s another way to end the story: commit suicide. But it isn’t mine. Instead if I had to kill somebody it would only be when I had exhausted all other possibilities to end the confrontation that would not only convince me but a judge and jury. That was part of the training as well.

    I suspect that isn’t the story in those videos ….

  2. Finally, someone posted about gun violence in video games!!!