American society has painted itself into a corner on mental illness: Many individuals hesitate to seek help for fear of the attached stigma and ostracizing; their families refuse to inform the authorities for those same reasons, while schools and employers can often do nothing because of “privacy” concerns (a.k.a., fear of litigation). Another issue is access to treatment and cost.
Even addressing these root problems, though, is no panacea. Hand-in-hand with the conversation about how to help those struggling with mental illness, must come an examination of social isolation in American society. Among mass shooters in the US, a striking pattern is emerging: troubled, adolescent males, and middle-aged, often white, males as the perpetrators. The adolescents are often intelligent and quiet, but also described as “weird” and aloof. Many of the middle-aged men carry the bitterness and helplessness felt in a society from which they are increasingly isolated through divorce, layoffs, and rapid advances in technology.
In both cases, they often want to be a “somebody” who makes a name for themselves by going out in a blaze of bloodshed and infamy.
Simply making assault rifles harder to obtain will not solve the problem of mass violence. If an individual is desperate or delusional enough, he will simply move to the next available weapon. The world just saw tragic evidence of that in central China. Unable to obtain firearms, a man went on a stabbing spree in an elementary school in Chenpeng village, also on Dec. 14. He wounded 23 students – admittedly a less severe outcome than 20 students killed, but nonetheless part of a troubling pattern of mass-stabbings in the country.