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Newtown, Mental Health, and the Dangers of Oversimplifying Gun Control

Let's be careful what we say, okay?

We may never know what was wrong with Adam Lanza. And something was definitely wrong for him to brutally murder 20 children and eight adults, including his mother and himself. We know that Lanza had a "developmental disorder," and several of his classmates said they were told he had Asperger's Syndrome. That would match his brother Ryan's description of Adam as "somewhat autistic" and troubled by "personality disorder." Well, that could be anything from antisocial personality disorder — a.k.a. the thing that makes psychopaths psychopathic — to schizoid personality disorder. In any case, it appears that Adam Lanza suffered from mental illness, like many of the mass shooters in America before him. And it's inevitable that our nation is gearing up for a serious conversation about mental health and violence. Let's be careful what we say, okay?

Mental health is a deeply stigmatized topic in the United States. We've come a long way since the days that the mentally ill were treated like animals, though. The days of straight-jackets and lobotomies are behind us, but it's not really clear where we go from here. One suggestion that's been floated in the days since the shooting in Newtown is better funding for mental health care system. Great idea! Mental health advocacy groups have been saying this for decades, and when it looked like we might be making process a few years ago, the recession hit, setting efforts back significantly. Mental health is expensive. It's hard to find. Anything we can do to make it cheaper and easier would be a tremendous improvement for everyone.

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