It Wasn’t Him, It Was His Illness?

Brett Ryan, 35, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the so-called crossbow killings last week. The lifting of a publication ban reveals his mother and two brothers died in suburban Toronto.

Crossbow killings victims were mother, 2 brothers of murder accused – Shared via the CBC News Android App

Bad start to the week in one of Toronto’s neighbourhoods: Mother, and brothers gunned down by one of their own. Brett Anthony Ryan now faces first degree murder charges for strangling his mother, Susan Ryan; and killing his brothers Alexander and Chris Ryan with a cross bow. A tragedy, and the tragedy is far from over.

I have a sneaky suspicion the Canadian media is going to wave the mentally ill card. In these cases, aka mass killings, that usually is where the media tries to lay the blame: It wasn’t the perpetrators that deliberately decided to kill those people, it was the mental illness that made him or her or they do it. Often this assumption comes before a psychiatrist or psychologist can even get a basic profile of the murderer, and then the media uses the research done for the case to back their preconceived ideas up.

In the last decade or so mass shootings in the USA often resulted in one or two mental illnesses being blamed, and in others they blame it on a developmental disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome. Then the people who agree or disagree with the assessment by news outlet get into a giant fight over whether mental illness equals violent behaviour every single time.

Misperceptions about the relationship between mental health, mental illnesses and violence contribute significantly to stigma, discrimination and social exclusion. Studies indicate that people living with mental health conditions are no more likely to engage in violent behaviour than the general population (From CMHA Violence and Mental Health September, 2011).

Know what this reminds me of? A blog article I read here. In it the blogger equates people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) with toxic people, and advised all those who encounter a person with BPD to run far away from them. Either way, it is equating mental illness with danger and alerting the public to the supposed “sleeper agents” among them.

Yet those articles don’t explain why someone would develop such illnesses. It didn’t talk about how people who develop illnesses like BPD often came as a result of the person being naturally emotionally sensitive and being brought up in an environment where those emotions weren’t validated; and they not talk about how BPD can also be developed as a result of a traumatic childhood.

Those articles don’t talk about the good things autism can give people: above average intelligence, able to notice small but crucial details, very focused, and different ways to see the world. They don’t talk about how people like Anthony,  and I try to work to stand underneath our trials, and emerge as stronger people. Sometimes we succeed, and other times we fail. News Articles don’t mention that the mentally ill are most often the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. They don’t talk about how 1 in 6 children who have autism are bullied at school. They don’t mention that BPD patients are often in abusive relationships because they perceive the abuse to be their fault because their BPD did something to set the other person off.

They never talk about the more sinister motivations behind some of these accusations: Is it really to inform the public about mental illness, or is it so those reporting can feel better about themselves? I bet the people pointing the finger at mental illness  are doing so in order make themselves look big: “You’re sick in the head, but I’m not!” I wonder, are those people always healthy in their minds?  Have they found an entire day gone because they couldn’t get out of bed?

The articles never warn us to fear those with a “healthy” mind. They don’t warn us to fear people who reject mental illness as a reality until a violent event happens so they can whistle in the mental illness label. No warnings in the news about people are deliberately  rude, deliberately  the toxic person, and/or the deliberate bullies. They don’t say they’re societies real problem because they don’t see that their behaviour needs changing- unlike people with BPD, substance abuse, and Asperger’s who know that need help in order to control their condition instead of the other way around.

They don’t talk about how those with mental illness and disorders often take their own lives. The violence is against themselves the majority of the time, not other people. And when the violence does reach others, the articles are often silent on how outside factors aggravated the individual’s mental illness, instead of help them over come it. Where are the calls for easier access to resources, and more commitment towards mental health services? And by calls, I mean calls that last past the couple of weeks the story is big news?

Articles don’t talk about how mental illness can explain bad behaviour, but don’t justify it. If Brett has a mental illness, it doesn’t justify him murdering his mother and brothers. Asperger’s Syndrome didn’t justify Adam Lanza murdering his mother, and then murdering the teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. BPD does not justify me exploding at one of my best friends for no reason, nor go blow $1000 credit card at a store because I can. 
Know what other bad behaviour it doesn’t justify? People being the judge and jury of those with mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t justify prejudice, stigma, lack of resources, and the promotion of injustice against the mentally ill. Half truths in these articles result in half measures. Those who are neuro-typical can sit up on their comfortable tower, assuming they’re better than those “weirdos” down below.

To call someone “deranged” or “mad” is to marginalize them, to declare that they are “not one of us.” Indeed, it is to say that he or she is not really human at all. As an adult with Asperger’s syndrome who has been marginalized all her life, I feel very uncomfortable when anyone, even someone unsavory, is summarily written out of the human race. I wonder if these sanctimonious pundits realize that the most devastating instances of mass carnage (a.k.a. “wars”) have been planned and executed by neurotypicals just like themselves who were perfectly sane—unless you consider “drunk with power” a cognizable mental disorder. From The Darkside of Asperger’s Syndrome by Charli Devnet

They can rest comfortably in their normalcy or worse: They don’t notice how they’re deliberately bullying someone, or think a joke at someone else’s expense isn’t a big deal. They are friendly at work, and then deliberately and make their spouse’s life a living hell because they have to vent work away some how. Little do they know their attitude could be pushing someone over the edge, or depression is just sneaking in through the back.

Aspies are prey animals, said Tony Attwood at an Asperger’s conference in 2012. We are much more likely to be victims than villains. Wounded prey may, however, grow desperate and strike back. A lifetime of being bullied, rejected, and relegated to the periphery of life can give rise to anger and bitter fantasies of revenge, especially perhaps among lonely young autistics that have grown up in a culture where violence is glamorized and who may turn to perfecting their skills at violent video games in lieu of a social life. From The Darkside of Asperger’s Syndrome by Charli Devnet

vadess40: I was with you Charli up until the “violent video games” part. Guess you forgot violence was around WAY before video games? Still, you make some good points.

The full truth is mental illness, when left to its own devices in a hostile environment, can lead to violence. It doesn’t justify the violence, but it can explain it. At the same time, mentally ill people are often the prey. Majority of the time they fall to the predator that is their own illness, or to the predators that are neuro-typicals. The answer is not to lock them all away, nor to pretend their illness isn’t there. The answer is more care, and more resources, so the mentally ill and those with developmental disorders can become effective and modeled citizens in society.

But I guess that would mean neuro-typical people would have to climb down from the “mountain” of good health they live on, and admit the problem goes beyond just the mentally ill and those with disorders. It’s easier to just blame mental illness when heinous crimes happen, and ignore it when a person seems to be deliberately rude or prefers to be quiet and in solitude. That is what gets people to read and watch the news, after all, so why change it?


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