Monday, June 2, 2014

Mental Illness and Violent Offenders

Last Wednesday a man from Ireland gave a speech at Toastmasters called, "My Terrorist Neighbor". When the title was first announced people in the club chuckled because they thought it would be a humorous speech (like many of the speeches he'd given before) about a neighbor who's dog barked all night and always stole the newspaper from his front porch. 

Then he got up to speak. He said when he lived in Ireland with his wife and children, he had a neighbor named Eugene. Eugene was a very charismatic man who was a pillar of the Catholic church in their community. Eugene had also had some extreme tragedy in his life. When he went out for 15 minutes to get some coffee his 2 brothers were shot and killed at his mother's house. This was back in the early 80s. Between 1960 and 1990s there was a civil war in Ireland. Northern Ireland v. Southern Ireland/ Protestants v. Catholic. Eugene himself ended up going to prison for a little while due to some terrorist-related activity of his own shortly after.

Eugene would drive to work everyday in a different car on a different path using different roads from southern Ireland to northern Ireland. He was always paranoid the government was watching. One day the daughter of the speaker and Eugene (both young teens at the time) went missing. Eugene panicked and was sure the girls had been kidnapped. After that the speaker decided it was too intense living next to Eugene and his family and decided to move to the U.S.A. 

About 5 years later a bomb went off in northern Ireland. 200 people were injured. 15 people died -including 5 children. These people came from all walks of life -Mormons visiting from the U.S., Spanish tourists, Catholics, Protestants, people on their way to work... And it was later found the Eugene had detinated the bomb using his cell phone. 

It was interesting timing that this speech was given -especially after the recent Isla Vista shootings. And there's been a big debate raging since: Was the man "mentally ill"/ was mental illness the cause of this? 

It's a pretty heated debate. Some are saying, "Yes he had mental illness and we should use this as an excuse to pay more attention to mental illness even though we won't because Sandy Hook was definitely a case of mental illness and we've still pretty much done nothing about it." Others are saying, "Obviously he wasn't mentally ill he was just a racist, misogynistic white male who felt like he's was being denied things he had rights to (even though he didn't) and he snapped and took out his anger on the people around him."

So then I decided, "What is mental illness these days anyways? What qualified?" Then I went on a little t4ip down that rabbit hole trying to find the definition of mental illness as according to today's standards (on Wikipedia). Turns out "Mental Illness" or "Mental Disorders" range from issues like anxiety, depression, and being overly compulsive to being a serial killer. Very very very broad spectrum. Basically if you have any kind of problem known to man that isn't physical but falls under the banner of emotional/mental/psychological -you can be treated by a psychiatrist/therapist/shrink and therefore be said to have mental issues. 

Basically everyone on some level or another -unless your life has perfectly perfect with no issues whatsoever -qualifies on some level as having some version of mental/emotional/psychological issues. So we're all in the same bucket and the solution is the same for everyone: Seek Help. Seek Guidance. Seek Absolution. Seek Peace. Seek Connection... 

But what bothers me is this: MOST mental disorders develop by nurture rather than nature (aka by your environment/ parents/ experiences. But then there are those who AREN'T. Some people are born with mental disorders from which there are no cure -and in some cases little treatment. So it isn't really fair to compare someone who was born with a mental illness that they cannot "overcome" to somebody who essentially just has issues like everyone else does and is capable of overcoming those problems by getting proper guidance. 

Honestly here's where my compassion and sympathies fall to on this spectrum: 

-I can sympathize with someone who experienced trauma/abuse/pain in their lives that then led them on a negative path towards harming others.  

-I can feel even more sympathy for someone who was born with a disorder that compells them to act violently in ways they otherwise wouldn't if they could help it.

-I find it very challenging to sympathize and feel compassion towards someone who was of clear mind and judgement and consciously/knowingly hurt people for selfish reasons. 

Like Eugene for example. Eugene had issues that you could say led to him having kind of a psychological breakdown: 

-Brothers brutally murdered by terrorists. 
-Going to prison himself.  
-Growing paranoia and hatred over the years.

But he also could have gotten help/support. At what point do you justify to yourself that because the world has hurt you you therefore have the right to injury 200 people and take the lives of children in one fell swoop by detonating a bomb? Sympathy can only go so far. At some point personal accountability and responsibility needs to be argued for.

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