Orwellian Demands After VA Tech Shooting

Now that America is coming to terms with the fact that they can’t get their pound of flesh from the VA Tech Campus Police and President, they have set their sights on mental health professionals as a group to blame for last week’s shootings.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D. writes: “As predicted, the media is now making some very generalized and meaningless connections between Cho’s hospitalization 16 months ago in 2005, and his actions on Monday.” The media in their undying need to sensationalize just keeps spoon feeding the public’s need to blame and retrospectively criticize everything surrounding last Monday’s shooting.

The implication, of course, is that since Seung-Hui Cho had undergone a psychological evaluation in 2005 and subsequently ordered to seek outpatient treatment, campus psychologists should have somehow been able to magically predict his shooting rampage. I actually heard a VA Tech student on NPR news say “They knew he had a mental illness so it seems like this could have been prevented somehow if someone had just done something.” Amazing! Never have I heard a comment of less value!

The bottom line is that things were done correctly. When problems were seen, Cho was sent for a psychological evaluation an ordered to get followup treatment. To those who say he should have been removed from school or locked up, I ask one very simple question. What if he had not gone on a shooting rampage? How would your actions of denying him an education or his freedom be seen if he never actually did the horrible things he did?

The point here is that a lot of people suffer from mental illness. For every person who looses it and starts shooting, there are hundreds of thousands more who are just trying to get through life the best they can with their illness. They never hurt anyone. We have to ask ourselves if we want to be a society that demonizes and alienates people with mental illness or one that is sympathetic, inclusive and helpful to them.

I have to say that it seems like Americans are calling for some pretty Orwellian policy when they start demanding that people with mental illness be removed from society. I would go on to suggest that doing so would make them more dangerous. Let’s look at what we know about Seung-Hui Cho. He was an outcast who didn’t have friends and was picked on by other students. In effect, he had been alienated from his community and demonized because of his illness. This, of course, all within the informal social context of a University setting. What Americans are calling for is a much more dramatic and official form of this ostracism. I can’t help but think this would only serve to further alienate people, causing them to decline and crack all the more easily.

Rather than pointing fingers and making mal-informed, unreasonable, knee jerk demands, America needs to try to truly understand what pushes people over the edge if they want to prevent these shootings from happening in the future. Since every school shooter we have seen was a bullied outcast, I think its safe to say we have a model to work with. Rather than vilifying the mentally ill, we need to focus on what causes them to get sick to begin with. A strong, zero tolerance approach to bullying seems like a very good start!

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