Monday, December 3, 2012

COMMENTARY: Time to stop linking depression with acts of violence


The aftermath of the Javon Belcher murder-suicide tragedy is similar to many acts of violence in two ways.

First, there's the predictable gun control debate that will fire back up on the national scale. Secondly, there's the debate about what roles "mental illness" and depression had with the violence.

With any story including a suicide, it's automatically assumed that depression, sadness and mental illness was the primary reason why it happened.

Others will focus on the gun control aspect of the story, so I'll leave that alone for gun and violence experts to talk about.

But on the depression angle, I am an expert.

For most of late teenage life and so far during my 20's, I've dealt with severe depression and anxiety issues. Though I've made substantial progress in addressing both of them (no panic attacks in half a year), there are still times when I feel the world is crumbling around me.

Worse yet, it's hard to figure out why I feel this. Everyone gets sad sometimes, whether it's the down economy, a death in the family or any other bad day scenario.

For me, it's hard to explain why I feel gloomy and depressed a lot of the time. Over the years, I've lost a few close friendships. I've had a terrible business experiment go wrong on me and I've had the typical break-up here or there.

I don't write this to gain sympathy or beg for help.

I'm saying this because I've never considered taking someone else's life. Even when life was at its darkest stage, the thought of ending another person's life never entered my head.

I also mention this because the immediate "he must have suffered from depression" thought process some in the media pushed after the Belcher murder-suicide does not help those who have depression. It helps spread a very unfair stigma about how depressed people or those who suffer from any sort of anxiety problem are "ticking time bombs" just waiting to go off.

That's not the case. 

Along with the Belcher tragedy, the same discussion on mental illness happened after the Gabby Giffords shooting in Arizona and the tragic theater shooting this summer in Colorado.

It's time for those in the press and society to stop linking mental illness and murder. Statistically, the argument doesn't measure up.

According to a 2009 study in the Schizophrenia Bulletin, only one in 14 million individuals has been killed by a stranger with a mental health condition. And according to the American Psychiatric Association, “Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses.”

In other words, mental illness and depression alone do not cause individuals to kill people.

I obviously sympathize with the need to promote suicide-awareness programs, along with awareness towards issues of mental illness in general. Mental illness can hurt families, relationships and hurt your performance in the work-place.

I can personally attest to all three of those examples, unfortunately. Depression is very real.

However, in the Belcher case, the following also needs to be remembered.

A man who shoots the mother of his child nine times in front of her own mother is not a depressed person.

That man is a bad person.