I don’t think it’s a reach to say that we’ve all been sent reeling yet again by this most recent school shooting. Social media has been flooded (for the umpteenth time) with the voices of grief-stricken families and friends, angry cries for action, countless thoughts & prayers, and the question of “what do we do to stop this from happening again?” being attacked with renewed vigor.
While the outpour of concern and support for those impacted by this shooting has been great, there have also been old arguments sent back into circulation with the sole intention of diverting attention from answers to that question that look unfavorably upon certain elements at play (namely guns, and how to better regulate them). For example, a November 2017 article published on the Citizens Commission on Human Rights: Florida website entitled “Antidepressants are a Prescription for Mass Shootings” began to gain attention on Twitter following Wednesday’s events. In this article, the author argues that antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), cause violent behavior in those who take them and are what’s truly to blame for the number of mass shootings we’ve seen in the last several years.
This ludicrous argument struck a chord with me personally, as one of the antidepressants to which I’m prescribed is an SSRI. I’ve taken this medication since March 2016, and (though I obviously don’t speak for all patients who take them) I have never experienced any desire to take violent action against myself or another person during that time, nor have I ever been told by a medical professional that this could be a potential side effect.
To make a blanket statement condemning medications that are meant to help those with mental illnesses is incredibly dangerous. Mental illness is already stigmatized enough as it is, and leading uneducated readers to potentially believe in such unfounded and presumptuous rhetoric will only add to that stigma and increase the suffering & isolation of those who are sick.
Yes, there likely is a direct correlation between mass shooters and their mental illnesses, and yes, maybe the treatments they received for those illnesses proved ineffective, but the main issue is not the fact that they were on antidepressants. Those who make arguments solely highlighting the mental health (or lack thereof) of these shooters choose to only acknowledge one side of the problem, and apparently the best some of these individuals are able to provide to the discourse is false evidence rather than actual suggestions for how to best address this problem.
What many seem to neglect is the fact that this is not an “either-or” issue; it’s a “both-and”. We shouldn’t place focus exclusively on regulating access to assault rifles, nor should we simply say “this is a mental health issue” and delve into the shooter’s medical history as evidence. And we definitely shouldn’t continue to allow conversation on both subjects to explode in the few days following a tragedy and then die out until the next inevitable tragedy happens.
Action needs to be taken on both fronts. New federal and state policy needs to be set in place regarding civilian access to military-grade weaponry, and efforts to destigmatize as well as to properly treat mental illness need to be prioritized on a national scale.
I’m angry and sad that this is a conversation we keep having to have, that this has become an almost “normalized” facet of American life. My heart breaks for the people of Parkland who have had their lives forever altered by this tragedy, and my heart hasn’t yet healed for everyone else impacted by the countless other mass shootings we’ve seen before this.
When will enough finally be enough?