If You Think the Arizona Shooting Was About Politics & Discourse, I Think You’re Wrong

I am nearly in tears. I am shaking. I've got to calm down. I know I do. I'm just not good at this breathing thing. Once I get riled up, I'm terrible at getting … well … riled down.

I have sat back these last few days and watched as the media has gone on and on about politics. So-and-so said this and that's why people were killed in Arizona. So-and-so used that language and that's why a young man committed violent acts in Tucson. I have watched people I respect in the blogosphere relentlessly pointing the finger at those with different political views than theirs, people they never liked in the first place, without stopping for one second to acknowledge that those on their own side of the aisle use the same kind of political rhetoric and imagery all the time.

It finally came to a head for me this morning as I decided to respond to a poll on BlogHer about the Arizona shooting. As I answered each question, I became more and more upset. The questions asked included one on which political parties/groups (Conservatives, Liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party) use the most violent discourse. Another was on whether last weekend's events will affect the political future of Sarah Palin.

Really? REALLY?!??!?

Yes, people died. They sure did. Horribly. It sickens me still. Why did they die? Perhaps a main reason is because people who knew that a young man was seriously disturbed either wouldn't help him or couldn't help him. Perhaps that's it. But our country will CONTINUE TO IGNORE (yes, I'm shouting) the sorry state of our mental health system so that we can focus instead on the juicy argument of who has used what kind of imagery on their website?

Really? REALLY?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Here was my comment on BlogHer about the poll:

I have to say this poll frustrates me. In fact, it makes me mad.

It completely plays into to the media frenzy over whether politicians' language caused the shooting in Arizona. There is ZERO evidence to that effect thus far. In fact, the only information we have is that Jared Loughner wasn't particularly aligned with any political party.

Why are there no questions in the poll about mental health, and whether Jared's lack of mental health care (and the country's lack of good mental health care as a whole) was a major factor in the shooting? Why are there no questions about whether BlogHer members will pay more attention in the future to people who show evidence of instability and push for them to receive the help they need? Why are there no questions about whether we need better legislation to ensure people can access mental health services, and whether people would vote for someone who supports that type of legislation?

Instead, the poll seems designed to produce results that one political group can use against another in future elections. While I do agree that we need more civility in politics on both sides of the aisle, is that topic directly connected to Jared Loughner and his heinous acts last weekend?

I love BlogHer. They have been 1,000% supportive of women with postpartum depression and related illnesses. They have always been very thoughtful about mental health, and they have always allowed me to use their amazing forum to provide information to their readers on PPD. I will be grateful to them and loyal to them forever. I appreciate that they were just floating a quick poll on the politics related to this event. And I appreciate Elisa Camahort Page's quick and thoughtful response to my comment. This really isn't about BlogHer in any way. My anger arises from how media and pundits have driven the discourse on the shooting, and turned it into political football when we could be having a needed and meaningful conversation about mental health. The poll just brought it to a head in my mind.

Here's what I want people to know:

1. Mental illness and violence are not directly correlated. Most people with mental illness are not violent.

2. It is not appropriate for leaders and members of the media to further stigma by using words like "nutcase" and "lunatic" and "wacko" over and over this week on the airwaves and in print.

3. Many people in America who have mental illness have limited or no access to good health care providers and services.

4. Because of our laws, it is difficult to obtain care for people of legal age who have severe mental illness.

5. Even if you do suggest help, and even if you can get someone access to it, it doesn't mean they'll accept it.

We need to stop talking about Sarah Palin, for God's sake, and start talking about this. We need to talk about funding better services. We need to discuss the fine line between being able to commit someone who may be a danger to himself or others and also respecting people's individual human rights and civil liberties. We need to discuss why mental health and physical health are still treated separately in our country, despite passage of the Mental Health Parity Act. We need to talk about stigma, and how it prevents people from seeking help for treatable illnesses.

Really. REALLY.

P.S. I hope you'll now hop over to read my article on the Arizona shooting over at ParentDish today. I connect to some really great opinion pieces that have been written by people this week who DO get the point, and some interesting data from the Huffington Post on mental health services (or the lack thereof) in Pima County, Arizona. Please go there and comment.

P.P.S. Update (Wed afternoon):

Oh, and to everyone who reads this/comments here, please let me say I respect you. That is very important to me. I don't think I communicated that enough in my post. In fact, I'm sure I didn't. I'm upset, because I worry so much that mental health is being obscured. But I'm not mad at you if you think I'm wrong, I'm not mad at you even if I think you're wrong, I don't hate you or anyone who disagrees with me. I don't feel that you shouldn't have an opinion or the freedom to share it. None of those things. I have just felt the conversation of this horrible event slipping to a discussion of a bunch of people (our politicians) who often behave poorly, and whose poor behavior may not have had anything whatsoever to do with this shooting. I hope that makes some sense. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

P.P.P.S. Update (Thursday morning):

After having such an amazing and engaging discussion with all of you, I've changed my mind. No one is wrong. We are all right. We each view what happened in different ways. We can have all of these conversations, if they make us better able to help and understand each other. Thanks y'all. I have the best readers on the planet.

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

Tell Us What You Think

Comments

  1. Marlene Freeman says:

    Although it is unclear if the shooter sought mental health care help, Arizona is one of the states in this country with a staggering number of uninsured or underinsured adults and children, and according to an APA update, the only state to cut health services to children in 2010. Tragedies could happen anywhere, and an improved mental health care system, access, coverage, and public education helps us all. Best wishes, Marlene Freeman, MD.

  2. Hi Katherine.
    I'm terribly sorry the poll was so upsetting for you, and yes, we were choosing to focus on one quick angle, to the exclusion of others.
    That being said: You have inspired us to take up the challenge and start working on a second poll about the very questions you raise.
    Thank you for your tireless efforts, and your articulate expression of the problems facing us.

  3. Fantastic post, Katherine. I've been wondering the same thing myself.

  4. I think that a political assassination in a heated political climate leads to discussions about politics and the consequences of violent political rhetoric. I think that the murder of people with an automatic weapon in a state with very few gun restrictions leads to discussions about gun control. And I think that the mental health of the murderer at a time when health care is under scrutiny will also lead to discussions about fixing the system.
    This horribly tragic event is a catalyst for a lot of conversations. I don't think that any one is more or less important than the other. They all speak to making our system and our country healthier and more productive.

  5. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thank you Elisa. You know I love AND respect you guys. I really appreciate your understanding.

  6. I agree with Liz. These are important discussions. Mental health care is important. Civil rhetoric is important. Gun control is important.
    Your points are very much taken to heart, though. Don't think you haven't been heard for one minute.

  7. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks for adding to the conversation. I understand your point about having more productive conversations politically, but I guess I still don't understand how we know that this was a political assassination as you state.
    What if I told you that delusional people w/ paranoid and violent thoughts often focus the object of their delusions and paranoia on government officials? (e.g., The government is controlling my mind. The government is brainwashing me.) In fact, it's one of the most common delusions of schizophrenia. This has been happening for decades, outside of the current political climate and Sarah Palin or Barack Obama or George Bush or Paul Krugman or Rush Limbaugh or anyone else. People with these types of delusions aren't having them because of what they hear on talk radio.
    I do think we can have a conversation about rhetoric, and I agree it's gotten out of hand on both sides, but I still don't understand why it's tied to the shooting in Arizona.

  8. Yes! Mental health access and care!
    I agree that this needs more talk — and action — too.

  9. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks Rita.

  10. I guess there's a fine line between discussions about correlation and discussions about causality.
    I don't think that heated political rhetoric *caused* this particular shooting. But I don't think this is an isolated incident that should be dismissed either. I was astounded by Paul Krugman's column this week which referenced a statistic that threats on political officials are now up 300%. Are those people all mentally ill?
    It also sounds as we learn more about the shooter that there were a lot of factors (and people) complicit in his access to gun and target practice. What are their obligations and responsibilities in all this?
    I suppose I look at the country as one big interconnected organism. Actions cause and influence other actions.
    Thanks Katherine for letting me be part of this discussion. I always appreciate your perspective on this stuff and I learn something every time I come here.

  11. In all honesty, I'm avoiding the "story" all together because I know, like you, I won't be able to keep my anger under control.

  12. I thank God for people, such as yourself, who are eloquent, respectful and in tune to the reality of what's going on in situations like these. Politics is not a topic that I am able to give any kind of proper discourse, but the error in our society's judgment to give politics the credit and power to drive the conversation around an atrocity such as this is indisputably grievous. Our nation is crying for better care in all facets of the health industry, and those who need mental health resources are in despair. Our system is flawed and what we need is for all sides to stand together to improve upon the mess… the mess in which people who are willing (wanting!) to get help are unable to obtain it and the mess wherein the people who desperately need it, but do not see that need, have no options.
    Thank you for focusing on the heart of the matter! Thank you for your eloquence, I certainly could not have said it so well.

  13. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    And all those people that are part of that 300% increase make it so hard for the people being threatened to know who may be a real danger and who is just acting like a total jerk.
    I can sometimes get 10 x 10 furious about various political discussions, but I can't begin to imagine calling and threatening someone because I have a differing opinion. I'm sure political discourse is part of it, though I also wonder what else leads people to think calling and making threats is a good way to state their case or release their energy. Is it how we are raising our kids? Is it that we're not doing enough to release negative energy in healthy ways? We live in an awesome country where there are generally always two sides to every story and that's okay. What is with people making threats?

  14. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks for coming here and sharing your thoughts Susan, and for all you do to help women and families with cancer.

  15. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Coming from Miss Mental Health Social Media #mhsm, this means so much. Thank you.

  16. Well first off, you know that I 110% back you on pretty much anything mental health-related. That being said, I think this incident really has two major groups of issues that need to be addressed. One of those is, of course, the mental health aspect. The same thing happened after Columbine, where people just called the shooters crazy, etc., when it was plain that early intervention with regards to their mental health might have saved not only them but also all of their victims.
    However, I do also believe that, as this was an attack on political figures, that there does need to be some discussion and examination of politics. I think that lately, the vast majority of extremely violent rhetoric has come from groups like the Tea Party (although I would also condemn it coming from the Dems), and as such, people do make that connection. While I wish Sarah Palin weren't getting so damn much airtime off of this awful incident, I think we really do need to reevaluate the rhetoric used politically. Looking back at Hitler, for example, his rhetoric proved to be extremely devastating as people took it to heart and acted upon it. So I while don't think it does our country any good to simply say "Sarah Palin caused it with her inflammatory language and graphics," I ::do:: think politicians from all parties/affiliations need to agree to stop with the violent rhetoric with regards to their opponents. Really, there's enough actual violence in the world without also using it metaphorically to advance political agendas.
    Does that make sense?

  17. I completely agree with Mom101…could not have said it better.

  18. You nailed it. I also fumed over the very ignorant comments made by the sheriff. I couldnt get over that anger I felt that once again the media allows for people to say such heinous things about people with mental illnesses and then let them get away with it. My response was here:
    http://www.makemommygosomethingsomething.com/?p=2
    Why must mental illness be such a back issue yet the first one to blame for all that is corupt and evil in this world?

  19. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Yes, it makes sense. Thanks for sharing your input, as always. It would be great if violence were reduced literally and metaphorically, and we could find other ways to speak to each other.
    I'm finding it a little ironic, though, that some of the same media people who are pointing out the irresponsible rhetoric of politicians re: violence are themselves using irresponsible rhetoric about mental illness.

  20. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Glad to hear your thoughts Ivy.

  21. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks for sharing the link Kimberly. I'm definitely going to read it.

  22. I agree with 95% of what you have said here. I am really disappointed that instead of uniting in the face of tragedy, we are becoming even more divided. These are divisive times, and everyone is looking for a reason to blame the other side instead of looking for real answers.
    That being said, I think you take it a little too personally when someone uses a derogatory term to describe someone who might have been mentally ill. I get why this bothers you, I really do. However, I think terms like this are part of our vernacular and I am just not sure that it is a battle worth fighting. Then again I am very against political correctness in general because I personally think fighting over the political correctness of a term often overshadows the bigger issue at hand.
    P.S. – I gave you some love today on a post about PPA. <3

  23. We all don't like to be call names, especially words that belittle us. These words will and do cause people to not seek treatment in fear of being called these horrible names. When we are sick, many of us believe we are these words, further isolating us from others, ourselves, and treatment. For example, racing thoughts: I am nothing but a "nut job." We all know, especially those of us who have suffered from PPD/PPP, how powerful our thoughts can be. I have been having to do visual stop signs ALOT myself when I read about what happened in Arizona.
    The end of this video gives a wonderful quote, how we all with a mental illness would like to be treated:


  24. Sending you some love and hugs and a big cup of herbal tea (or wine, your choice).
    I think this event should be a springboard for many important discussions. I think political rhetoric is one of those important converstions, and timely since we had a very ugly midterm election cycle that ended just two months ago. The cycle of societal violence is another. But you're right as well, that this should also lead us into a discussion about mental health care – or the lack thereof.
    I'll admit, my first reaction was NOT related to the status of his mental health (although maybe I should have arrived there sooner than I did), but instead focused on this guy's possible motives. And I'm still there and still focusing more on politics of this thing. They're hard to ignore. I want to know what this guy was trying to accomplish, and then I think I can sit back and figure out how everyone failed to regonize that this guy was in a crises.

  25. My previous job required me to involuntarily hospitalize (5150) a lot of people. I took the responsibility very seriously because by 5150-ing them, I was taking away their rights to refuse treatment. I told an awful lot of family members who were really advocating, quite rightly, for their mentally ill family member to be hospitalized, "It's not against the law to be crazy." It's a difficult situation and I'm not sure what the answer is. Patient advocacy groups are very passionate about NOT taking away patient's rights, but the bad side of that is that some of these people slip through the cracks. And others, because their illness means they don't recognize they have an illness, must live destitute lives. It's all very sad and like I said, I don't know what the answer is. But I appreciate you bringing up that this is really a mental health, not a political, issue (although I'm grateful for anything that might tone down the hateful rhetoric).

  26. @ Pamela ,
    Same here even I can not control my anger too specially when I am under this sort of situation.

  27. Agreed Katherine. As a mental health professional I feel the media, the general public and politicians do a disservice by missing the bigger points here of lack of services in AZ for those with mental illness, the fact that it is so easy to buy the type of ammunition the killer bought and the fact that not all those with mental illness are violent.
    To that point though I would hope it would give politicians pause to consider what they do say so that if something like this ever happens again no one will ever question whether something they said or did provoked such an act. If what you are saying as a politician is quickly linked to something like this, even if it has nothing to do with this horrible act, perhaps your message is worth rewording or focusing. Mary Jackson Lee, LCSW Wheaton, IL

  28. I'm so conflicted regarding my feelings on this tragedy. On the one hand, I'm inclined to call it an attempted political assassination because a politician was shot. In that regard, it stands to reason that people would look to violent political rhetoric for something to blame. (And is it just me or does there seem to actually BE more violent political rhetoric now than in administrations past? Maybe it IS just me…)
    However, mental illness should also be discussed. But I don't think it should be blamed for his actions. I don't think mental illness should be an excuse for heinous crimes like this. And while PPD is a mental illness, I don't view it in the same category of mental illness as I view schizophrenia and the like, so when his mental status is discussed, I don't take it as a personal affront to ALL people suffering from mental illnesses as each illness is different.
    And that, to me, is where this topic melds together into one. People with mental illnesses with violent and/or hallucinatory tendencies (schizophrenics) are more susceptible to "The Devil made me do it" motives, right? (I'm genuinely asking here.) They are more susceptible to see images like the ones posted on Palin's site and the idea is planted that something must be done! Regardless of the person's actual political affiliations. (Isn't this what happened with Reagan's would-be assassin?)
    I believe that the discussion about mental health in our country needs to happen. I believe that discussions about gun control NEED to happen. I believe that discussions about violent political rhetoric NEED to happen. And I believe this is a catalyst that could make these discussions happen IF, and ONLY if, the media would see the need for such honest discussions and facilitate them.

  29. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Shelly,
    I know what you mean. People use the word crazy all the time, for instance, to describe events or things and not to hurt anyone's feelings. In that context I don't have an issue. I think maybe it's just that in times like these I'd people in positions of leadership to not throw around harsh words in the context of discussing people w/ mental illness. But still, I totally see your point.
    Also, where's the link?! šŸ˜‰

  30. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Yes, Kim. You've touched on it perfectly. It's how people who need help absorb these words that worries me.

  31. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    I think based on all of the responses that the Postpartum Progress readership would welcome discussions of both the political rhetoric and mental health. I can live with that. I was just so worried that mental health wasn't being discussed at all, and it was breaking my heart. In the meantime I wonder if we'll ever be clear on Loughner's motives. It will be interesting to see what they find out.

  32. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience here. It's important. I'm sure it was very tough to be in your position.
    I also appreciate your point about people who don't know they are ill living destitute lives. I always wonder what percentage of the homeless people in our country have schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses. What can we do to help them? Again, there's such a fine line between requiring someone be hospitalized for treatment and respecting their individual liberties.

  33. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Miranda.
    I do think it's possible that disturbed people could be more susceptible to violent imagery, but we don't have any evidence as to what imagery Loughner may or may not have seen. At least one of his friends has said he didn't watch TV or read newspapers or follow politics. So if we're talking about the Loughner case, I'm not sure it applies. If we're talking about society as a whole, though, I imagine it does.

  34. Katherine –
    I see what you are saying, and I do agree that context does matter. I think your point is valid and it is made more valid by the fact that you do not get upset when those terms are used in situations that do not directly involve mental illness. Oh, and for the record I completely agree with you when it comes to reporters and news stories that automatically assume that a mother must have been mentally ill if they harm their children (therefore stigmatizing all of us that have had postpartum issues).
    Here is the link to the post on PPA:
    You may have read it already as it is a an edited repost from another blog (The Healthful Mom) that I decided to abandon for now in favor of a broader set of topics.

  35. I had never thought of that angle! Thanks for pointing out the "elephant in the room" that no one wants to talk about.

  36. Well said.

  37. I admit to not following the case very closely, so I was unaware of his lack of media contact prior to the shootings. But, I still think the conversation needs to happen REGARDLESS of his mental status and/or political affiliations because somewhere out there, there IS someone with a mental illness who WILL be influenced by rhetoric, you know? So if we can have a discussion which prevents that person from injuring him/herself and others, I'm cool with that.

  38. interested says:

    LOOOOOVE this post!