Focus on Alexis' Mental Health Is Misguided

By Bowker, Matthew H | The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), September 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

Focus on Alexis' Mental Health Is Misguided


Bowker, Matthew H, The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)


Another Voice: Focus on Alexis' mental health is misguided

Today's popular wisdom holds that mental illness predicts violence. Studies of the subject have been controversial, but there is no disputing that other factors, such as a person's history of violence, are better predictors of violence than mental illness. In Aaron Alexis' case, the clearest warning should have been his legal history, firearm discharges and aggressive behavior.

If we accept mental illness as the final answer, we turn a deaf ear to what mental illness can tell us about our society. While there remains a heated debate over the influence of genetics, neuro- chemistry and environment on the development of mental illness, no one disputes the fact that personal experience plays a role. Mental illness, therefore, can tell us not only that a person is suffering, but that something may be wrong in that person's familial, occupational or social world. This can be a difficult notion to accept, and it is typically dismissed in mainstream dialogues about violence and mental illness.

Refusing this idea means denying that violence occurs all around us in the form of crime, child and domestic abuse, terrorism, warfare, poverty, bullying, hate rhetoric and other guises. Alexis served in the Navy, and in 2004, Alexis' father told detectives that Alexis may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in connection with his work after 9/11.

Although clearly not the only factors accounting for his actions, ignoring the impact that military involvement and terrorism may have had on Alexis' mentality seems myopic. …

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