Written on March 5, 2018 by anonymous teen who hopes to create a better understanding.
White. Six feet tall. Male. Patient is prone to anger and aggression while having a low tolerance for frustration. He has a history of anti-social behavior resulting in issues with the criminal justice system and a rejection of societal norms. In addition to this, the patient displays signs of having a substance abuse disorder as well as chronic mental illness.
The description could be for any one of the ascending number of school shooters, or other mass shooters for that matter, that America has witnessed in the 24 years since my birth. On the other hand, my parents would also read a description of their son. In fact, after one nationally acknowledged shooting, my mother commented to me that she used to worry that I would be one of those kids (she has since said she doesn’t remember, but it’s not the type of thing you forget when your mom says). She did not mean a victim.
When a psychiatrist told me at the age of 15 that mental illness was something I’d probably struggle with the rest of my life, I was in no state of mind to hear it. This was after two years of dealing with it either on my own or with outpatient therapy. I was angry and informed my parents that I was not going to see him again. There may have been some profanity and name calling edited out in my retelling of how I handled the news.
Less than a year later I become addicted to self-mutilation in the form of cutting myself while barely eating and sneaking shots of vodka when I could before extra curricular school functions where I’d have to be social. I personally doubted that I would live to see high school graduation, especially since a few years earlier I had attempted suicide twice. While I have managed to get treatment, the years since have seen downward spirals with various amounts of self-medicating, run ins with the law including an arrest for DUI, and a stay in a psychiatric hospital for being suicidal.
This past year I read Dave Cullen’s definitive work, Columbine, which was written in 2010 investigating the details of the shooting that took place in April of 1999. It was an intensely disturbing read where, through Dylan and Eric, I came to grips with a reality about myself: I am the shooter.
I am the person who becomes a scapegoat for those on the right who need someone to pin the latest tragic shooting on; the person who those on the left ‘de-legitimatize’ and stigmatize for cheap political points by calling into question Trump’s mental health; and I am the person who this country has repeatedly left behind because there is no mentally ill voting block or lobbying presence.
In a time when oppressed groups are making their voices heard and the raw privilege of white men is being fully exposed, the irony is not lost on me that I, a white man, feel envious of movements like those of Black Lives Matter and #metoo/Women’s March. I am envious that no one questions that they are fighting for something, that there is wide recognition of their struggle. While not everyone agrees with them, there is a common social consciousness related to them that those of us fighting mental illness are not afforded.
We, the mentally ill, account for over half of all prisoners in the US (which has more prisoners than any other country), making the prison system the largest treater of mental illness in the country. To add injury to insult, we’re also significantly more likely to be the victim of police brutality.
A disproportionate number of us end up living in poverty, often without the means to receive or seek treatment. Many of us, especially those who are without treatment, struggle to hold down jobs for extended periods of time. In many cases, those of us who do not receive treatment end up self-medicating with various forms of drugs and/or alcohol which exacerbates our condition. A significant percentage of the homeless population are persons who have mental illness.
In the end, over 40,000 people take their own life each year in America and almost all of them suffer from mental illness. The most common method of suicide? The gun. Roughly half of people taking their life choose a gun as their passage of choice. Its efficiency makes it devastating and leaves few surviving the attempt. Each year over 20,000 of us pull the trigger on ourselves, accounting for two thirds of all gun fatalities.
Ted Bundy said in his death row interviews, “Society wants to believe it can identify evil people – or bad or harmful people – but it’s not practical. There are no stereotypes.” He was right.
It has become the narrative and the stereotype that the white mass shooter is mentally ill, which adds to the public perception and stigma that we are violent and dangerous. Yes, some shooters who hurt innocent people are mentally ill, but our country- our society for that matter- should keep in mind that while that may be the case, almost all mentally ill shooters take only one life.
I am the shooter.