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Don’t blame mental illness for mass murders

If you want to end mass shootings, you must support getting weapons capable of committing mass murder out of our homes and out of our communities.

A memorial fills the doorway in front of Ned Peppers Bar
A memorial fills the doorway in front of Ned Peppers Bar, the scene of Sunday morning's mass shooting, in Dayton, Ohio.
REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

I was diagnosed with depression in my teens. In my 20s, I received a diagnosis for anxiety.

I have tools to treat my mental illness. Therapy, prescription medicine, and skills I learned in therapy are the tools that I use in my daily life. Sometimes, I have really difficult days. Lots of days, I feel fine. Lately, there have been more of the difficult days. There have been more difficult days because everywhere I turn there is crisis. Mass shootings. Climate crisis. Outrageous medical bills that I can’t pay in full quite yet because my HSA was drained after $11,000 in out-of-pocket expenses last year. A mortgage payment in day care, in addition to a mortgage payment for a mortgage. My ability to manage my illness is tested every day.

Please don’t blame mental illness for mass murders that are overwhelmingly committed by white men seeking a vision of white supremacy mixed with guns. Mass shootings are not a mental health problem. They aren’t a video game problem. They aren’t a “we need more god” problem. Lots of other places have mental illness, video games, godlessness, etc., but they don’t have mass shootings.

A host of other gun problems as well

We have a lot of other gun problems, too. We do have people with mental illness who use guns to commit suicide. We have abusers who use guns to kill children, partners, and extended family members. We have people who use guns to resolve parking spot or zipper merge disputes. We have people pushed to the edge committing violent crimes against each other because of generation upon generation of violence committed against them through our systems, structure, and government.

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Mental illness. It’s not to blame for these mass shootings. It’s not. But every time someone blames mental illness, it sends more people like me into the dark. Afraid to seek help. Afraid of stigma. Afraid of shame. Afraid of being likened to a monster or worse.

Anita Smithson
Anita Smithson
To those suffering silently: You are worthy and deserving of being well. You are. I know in my heart that you are, because I know that I am. I’m the face of my mental illness. And I know I am so much greater than my mental illness wants me to think.BaUn

Sure, we have a mental health problem. If you want to fix that, you’ll support universal health care coverage, and you’ll help destigmatize mental illness. But our mental health problem is completely separate from our gun violence epidemic.

If you want to end mass shootings, you must support getting weapons capable of committing mass murder out of our homes and out of our communities. And we must eradicate the white supremacy ideology that drives so many of the people committing these acts of terror. This starts here, with all of us.

Universal background checks, red flag laws

If you want to end the ordinary, everyday gun violence that takes people from our communities, you should support universal background check legislation and red flag laws. These common-sense solutions are supported by an overwhelming number of Americans, and advocacy groups like Moms Demand Action, Protect Minnesota, the Brady campaign, and the Giffords organization. They may not stop every shooting – but they are a start. We do not have to live this way.

Anita Smithson is a mother, and organizer in Bloomington – working hard to help create a more just and safe world for her children and all children.

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