Usually, I’m uppity about terms being used to represent TOO LARGE of a behavior group. But the term “mental health” has always struck me as not being broad enough. That in order to make strides in awareness and recovery, we have to be more open to the implications of the terminology we use.
This came up during a discussion about the recent shooting in Southern California. I urge you to read the news article and consider the details before continuing. The shooter in this case gave a rather frightening manifesto video regarding why he sought out women and shot them, blaming his lack of ever having a girlfriend on a hatred for all women. It’s very easy to see why some believed this to be a simple case of a disgruntled, entitled misogynist lashing out when he didn’t get his way. But I immediately saw it as a mental health concern, as is usually the case when someone turns to taking multiple human lives as a way of projecting their feelings and thoughts.
Admittedly, I did not project that well enough, so I wanted to take this time to explain myself in greater detail and urge people to reconsider how we use the term “mental health” and what constitutes a mental health concern. Taking it at a rather literal face-value, mental health is anything related to your mental state and it’s well being. And since your mind is made up of such a large quantity of information and presents itself in a myriad of ways, your mental status is very broad and hard to take in all at once in a general sense.
The trouble I found is that the current use of “mental health” is usually equated to only certain types of mental health issues. Usually depression, suicide, psychopathy, sociopathy, or very televised mental health conditions like schizophrenia or things that are easy to spot on the surface. But I would argue that this is only the tip of a very large,and very hard to grasp ice burg. One I myself have been fighting to understand better ever since coming to terms with my own mental health concerns.
I am undiagnosed. I have never been labeled as “depressed” or “manic depressive” by any medical professionals. I was only in therapy for a few weeks as a pre-teen, and was put on medication for all of a week for anger management issues. Other than that, I have never once been TOLD I was mentally unwell. I never thought I needed to be. I became aware of my outward actions, and of my inner feelings, and recognized them as not being healthy. I believe without doubt that I have mental health issues, and that I am not a bad person for it. I also recognize that not everyone has that kind of self-awareness when it comes to these concerns, some never even finding out they had a problem to begin with.
That’s why I feel the need for “proof” is a bit sketchy. While it’s easy to instantly turn to mental health as a reaction to events like this, there are some that also believe it is hasty to use it as an excuse, that it derails the conversation. And that’s understandable, but I also believe it comes from a too-focused definition of what constitutes a mental health issue.
This shooter was called entitled, that he believed he deserved women, that it was his right. And I believe that mindset is unhealthy. Believing another human being is property is not a sign of a healthy mind to me, let alone being angry enough over it to take someone’s life as a result.
I parallel it to physical disorders. While there are physical issues that are very obvious, from cancer to abnormalities that show on the surface, there are also things such as the common cold. Or just feeling a bit wonky one day. I feel that we only see mental health as being the former, extreme, blatant, or not actually a health concern. That if it’s not something that can be labeled, treated, and diagnosed, it doesn’t deserve to be placed under the “mental health” umbrella. And I can understand that point, but as I said before, I believe your mind is such a large, vast thing that it can be unhealthy in many, many more ways than just depression or psychopathy.
And that includes entitlement and proprietary ownership of fellow human beings. As I said before, it’s an unhealthy state of mind to view yourself as in control of another person. This comes from a perpetual cycle of unhealthy mindsets passed down through our society and through those that shape us during our developmental stages. While this may not be an abnormality or a chemical imbalance such as depression, it is still a mental issue.
This is a result of, for lack of a better term, abuse of a young mind. This is why the way we present relationships, gender issues, and gender roles in media is truly dangerous. And the way we tell our children about certain things is equally as deadly. This is why people fight every day to show women as equal in our media. Not to sexualize and objectify them. It’s why it is so incredibly important to allow children to learn of respect early on, instead of this entitlement we blame this incident on. It is a matter of entitlement, but entitlement IS the mental health issue here. It’s the result of abuse, much like things such as drug addictions or anger issues can be as well. This kid was a result of an abusive home, with people who gave him at a young age an unhealthy perspective on the world, and of women.
I consider things like depression almost a physical issue. While thought processes, the way we’re wired to think, are more of a real “mental” health issue. It’s easy to believe that because his bad way of seeing things isn’t something that can be diagnosed or treated with medication, that it isn’t a health concern. But I think it doesn’t help matters to simply write this kind of escalation off as simply a person being bad. No one is bad from the start. And that’s where we need to start seeking understanding when events like this occur.
I don’t believe in demonizing someone like this. I believe we have to study the triggers, the things that “made” them do what they did, and figure out why they became this way. What is it about the world around us, the people who brought this person up, the situations and events he witnessed in his life, that led him to entitled misogynistic views of such a degree as to murder innocent strangers out of nowhere?
Treating this as a societal-centric mental health issue allows us to seek a better understanding of EVERYONE with these negative mindsets and points of view. It helps us address not only those that reach the level this young man did, but those that simply say mean things or treat people poorly due to their gender, race, etc. We have to remedy the cause, not just the disorder. We have to address what has caused this mindset to skew people’s point of view. And that starts with accepting that the term “mental health” has a far broader definition than we allow it to. Everything that causes our way of thinking to shift, and causes our actions to shift as a result of that, I feel deserves to be called a mental health concern.
And we need to keep that separate from other things. Such as depression, or suicide. Or what we label as someone being “crazy” or “insane”. These are different kinds of mental health concerns, not the only ones. The terminology is what catches us up. It’s easy to understand why some of these things get treated as something other than what they are: unhealthy.
I hope the conversation we can have going forward, as we inevitably face more events like this, can shift towards less demonization, and more attempts at understanding the underlying problems that cause unhealthy minds to grow, flourish, and explode.