Like everyone else, I was shocked and stunned by the senseless mass killing of young children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut. The families and community deserve their chance to mourn and search for their own meaning and healing.
However, I cannot be silent about the threats now being made against my community, as people respond to this act of terrible violence. The aggressive legislation against people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses that is being promoted by the NRA and by Representative Sensenbrenner, among others, is not a fit way to honor anyone’s life. It is waging war against an entire population in response to a provocative incident committed by someone who may not even be a member of that population.
The rush to label the shooter as mentally ill, to assume that unlawful violence is caused by mental illness and nothing else, and then to profile all people who have been so labeled as being the kind of individuals who can commit violence, is no more than cynical scapegoating. The NRA would like to sacrifice us to avoid giving up the right of not-yet-labeled people to own guns that have no use other than killing large numbers of people. Politicians have a hard time bypassing the easy way out that plays to stereotyped fears.
The U.S. would not be the first country to sacrifice democratic values to register and control people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses. Our sisters and brothers in China live under such conditions and have not even been able to speak out publicly for fear of being identified (from information shared by a human rights organization).
Forced psychiatry is violence and people die from it. People may know the name of Esmin Green, who died in a psychiatric emergency room, videotaped by a camera as she slumped to the floor, while a staff person walked by, nudged her with his foot, and walked on. You may not know the name of Ellen Glick-Haley, a friend and comrade of mine who died on an operating table to relieve severe constipation caused by the neuroleptic drug risperidone, which she was forced to take under New York’s outpatient commitment law (under the euphemism of “assisted outpatient treatment”). I venture to say that most people in the psychiatric survivor movement have known at least one person who died in the system.
As survivors of violence (both psychiatric violence and other forms of violence) we also know the meaning and value of peace and non-violence as a way of life. We have a lot to contribute to a national discussion about how to promote ethics and mindfulness in our communities, how to de-escalate violent or abusive situations, and how to just be human and real with each other and offer support rather than disdain or control to someone experiencing an extreme mental state.
Peace can start anywhere, but when the government uses mechanized drones to kill civilians in Pakistan, and claims authority to kill anyone including American citizens who have been identified as a threat to national security, we are already far along the slippery slope. We need to look also at aggressive posturing, much of it racist in nature, by many political and media figures, and our system of mass incarceration that has been called the “New Jim Crow” – the latest incarnation of our racial caste system. We need to look at the role played by forced psychiatry as a violent, senseless system of repression condemned by the United Nations (see Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture A/63/175), and the role played by psychiatric drugs that are known to cause ordinarily non-violent people to experience strong urges to violence.
The important thing is to come together without sacrificing or scapegoating anyone, and in such a way that we hold people responsible for their actions and work together to reduce the violence in American society. It is high time.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.