Tag Archives: anger management

Guns & Mental Health: Missing the Point Again

As we all know by now, there was a horrific school shooting in Florida on Feb. 14.  17 students and teachers were killed when a former student shot them with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

There have been 34 mass shootings since January 1st of this year…and it’s only February 21 (“Mass Shootings”, Gun Violence Archive website).

Total stats on gun violence (from January to February 2018), including “unintentional” shootings and “defensive use” are as follows:

Total # of incidents: 7,481

# of deaths: 2,072

# of injuries: 3,543

# of children (0-11 years) killed or injured: 79

# of teens (12-17 years) killed or injured: 395

Home invasion: 308

Defensive use: 213

Unintentional shooting: 240

This doesn’t include suicide, police deaths, or death by cop (Ibid.).

Contrast these numbers with the pediatric death rate (so far) during this year’s flu season (December until now in February): 84.

And this is considered an epidemic.  People are being urged to get a flu shot, get their kids flu shots, wash their hands, be wary in public spaces, and so on.  As well they ought to be.

But talk about gun violence?  Sure, as long as no one mentions guns.

I think that’s crazy.  “Deaths due to guns” is the only topic I can think of that doesn’t usually address what is a major reason for all these deaths – guns.

7 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in the country have involved the AR-15, or similar weapons:

The Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada (Oct. 2017, 59 killed, including the shooter)

The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida (June 2016, 49 killed) *

Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut (Dec 2012, 27 killed, including the shooter)

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (Nov 2017, 27 people killed, including the shooter) *

U of Texas, Austin, Texas (Aug 1966, 19 killed, including the shooter) *

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida (Feb 2018, 17 killed)

Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California (Dec 2015, 16 killed, including the shooters)

*Weapon used was similar to the AR-15.

The point is, semi-automatic weapons can kill a lot of people in a very short time.  That is their purpose – to kill people.

They are not used for hunting.  They are military weapons.  There is no need – I don’t care who you are – for a private citizen to own these types of weapons.

If you must buy a gun, buy a handgun.  Buy a shotgun.  Buy a hunting rifle. You can defend yourself with any of these.  Banning assault weapons or military-grade weapons does not violate anyone’s Constitutional right to bear arms (“Supreme Court Justices Allow Ban on High Capacity Guns”, Lyle Denniston, Constitution Daily website, 11/27/2017).

Which brings us to the “mental illness” component.

Many people, including the Idiot-in-Chief, are calling for stricter controls to prevent “mentally ill people” from buying guns.

Aside #1: You ought to be wary of any stand 45 takes, as it inevitably is the wrong one.  This case is no exception.

Let’s look at this logically, ok?  For which mental illnesses are you going to prevent people from owning guns?

Depression?  Ok, that’s 8.2% of the population (19.4 million adults).

Anxiety/panic disorders?  Ok, that’s (in total, all forms of anxiety) 22.3% of the population (49 million adults).

PTSD? Ok, that’s 3.5% of the population (7.7 million adults). (“Facts & Statistics”, Anxiety and Depression Association of America website)

And those are just the people who go for help.  The actual numbers are higher.

“Well, hey now,” you might be thinking, “I mean really crazy people, like psychotics or people with bipolar disorder and the like.”

Ok, here are more facts for you:

Only 3-5% of all violence, including gun violence, can be attributed to people with severe mental illness (“Gun Violence and Mental Illness: Myths and Evidence-Based Facts”, Joel Miller, American Mental Health Counselors Association website, 10/3/2017).

Most gun violence is perpetuated by people who are, well, violent.  As in, people who engage in domestic violence, have severe problems with drugs and/or alcohol, have a history of being violent towards others in general…you know, the kind of people who often get referred to “anger management classes”.

Having conducted those kinds of classes, I can tell you – they don’t work.

They don’t work because people who are violent do not see their anger as unreasonable.  They don’t see it as odd, or a bad alternative to other ways to handle conflict, and sometimes they see it as “self-defense”.

As in, “He called me a (insert insult here) so I hit/shot/threw something at him.”

I cannot even count how many times I heard that.  They really think that retaliating with physical violence against any form of disrespect constitutes “self-defense”, and no amount of reasoning can convince them otherwise.

And that point of view cuts across all race and class lines.  I’ve seen every kind of person express that idea, from the Mississippi Delta to inner city Memphis to Central Pennsylvania, and beyond.

It’s not a big leap to imagine that someone with a grievance against someone – or against people in general – who has that attitude towards anger and revenge is going to go out and buy a weapon that can kill as many people as possible.

Is that “mental illness”?  No, in my opinion, that’s not clinically “mental illness”.

Some could argue that yeah, it is, no doubt due to a personality disorder.  I might agree with that, as there are aspects of that kind of thinking.

But if we made that the criteria, who is going to evaluate folks for that?

Most people with personality disorders do not seek treatment.  They don’t see anything wrong with the way they think.  And, quite honestly, they are notoriously treatment-resistant if they ever do find themselves in counseling (usually forced by family or the law).

We even reward people with personality disorders in our society.  Look at 45.  Look at a lot of famous and wealthy artists/musicians/actors/politicians/CEOs and so on.  Many have personality disorders because the kind of profession they’re in lends itself to a certain ruthlessness involved in rising to the top of it, and attracts people with personality disorders. They can behave very badly and most of the time they get away with it

Aside #2: Let’s face it – a diagnosis of some kind of personality disorder is not going to carry the same kind of stigma that other mental illnesses do.  Some people now even brag about having one, or try to make nonclinical distinctions between “malignant narcissism” and just regular plain old “non-dangerous” narcissism.  Any clinician who has treated folks like that, or any victim of folks like that, knows that this distinction is bullshit.

How about people who have been committed to a psychiatric facility?  Even those who are held for 72 hours against their will for being “a danger to themselves or others”?  Surely they should not be able to own guns?

Besides the problem of the profit hospitals make from involuntary commitments – and they do, I’ve seen this in my workplaces – there are also the facts above that I mentioned about violence.  Most people are committed due to “suicidal ideation”, not usually “homicidal ideation”.

Should someone who is suicidal have access to a gun?  Well, no.  Usually we tell family members to get guns out of the house or lock them up.

But we don’t usually say, “do this forever, he/she is never going to get better.”  Especially in hunting country, that would just be stupid.

Aside #3: I am not a hunter.  I am not a fan of hunting.  I do respect people who hunt for food, as many do in rural places.

And what about involuntary commitment for false reasons?  I’ve seen that, too.  That goes on your permanent health record, you know.  So someone who has no reason to be committed other than due to a dispute over an elderly “patient’s” money, or in other suspicious circumstances is marked for life and cannot get a gun if he/she needs one (like in the case of abuse)?

Or how about medical records of any kind that mention a mental illness?  Are you going to tell me that a woman with PTSD or depression due to domestic abuse hasn’t the right to get a gun to defend herself in case her abuser tracks her down?

See, I am not against gun ownership.  I am against owning firearms that are used to kill a lot of people.  This is not a “ban all guns” vs “gun rights” debate – that’s a false dichotomy the NRA promotes.

This is about innocent people dying.  And the common denominators are semi-automatic rifles.  Rifles that are not necessary to own.

Let’s take those out of the equation.

Weird news of the week: This is why the British are considered so civilized – “Police Officer Accused of Taking the Biscuits”, Sky News website.  The article states that “it has not been clear what kind of biscuits he took” and the representative of the Met Police is quoted as stating that the theft “showed a fundamental lack of integrity”.

(Well, heck, if they were Penguin biscuits, I would definitely agree!)

Recommendation of the week: The Shibutani’s skate to Coldplay and a bronze medal. It’s worth sitting through the Coke commercial, trust me.


Be good.  Be kind.  Don’t let anyone scapegoat people with mental illnesses, it could be you or someone you love someday.








Laughter Was the Best Medicine – Now It’s an Illness.

I have written about this before – violence and peoples’ attitudes towards it.  I will continue to write about it, because it bothers me a lot and I am trying to understand and/or come up with solutions.

I have mentioned that I used to teach anger management.  I taught that in inpatient and outpatient places, mostly because the higher-ups decided that this had to be a weekly thing.  I never did get a straight answer when I asked why this was mandatory.

It’s not a bad thing to learn to identify your triggers and learn to control your behavior when angry.  In fact, it’s something that I think all adults should aspire to do, and to teach their children how to do this, too.

But there are some problems with this simple idea, the idea that one ought to control oneself and not harm others, and a major one is…

…people will not admit that they can control it.

“He/she made me…”

“I wasn’t thinking…”

“I was out of control…”

None of these things are true, actually.  People say them because they think those are good excuses to behave violently.

They’re mistaken.

And that’s the key stumbling block to teaching anger management.  If people will not admit that they are solely responsible for their violent behavior, no amount of group/individual therapy, classes, or workbooks are going to make any difference.

Why do they think like this?

Family, friends, social media, the media in general…all promote this idea of violence as a necessary part of life.

And it feels as if, sometimes when someone is angry, that they aren’t thinking.  They are, of course – you can’t blink an eye without an actual command from your brain (which I characterize as “thought”, because technically it is) – but what’s happening is they are not consciously aware of what they’re thinking.


I think that, in reality, people who are violent actually DO consciously think things, they just won’t admit it.  Consider this evidence…

Someone hits another person and then runs away when he/she hears the police are coming.

Someone gets into a fight and responds to commands from bystanders (“hit him again” and so on), and later asks to see the video of it recorded on someone’s phone so he/she can post it on Facebook.

Someone hits his partner but makes sure the blows fall on places that won’t show when clothed.

Are you actually going to tell me all these people weren’t thinking at the time they were involved in violent acts?

Of course not.  When I put it that way, it’s clear that all those people engaged in violence knew perfectly well what they were doing.

Because…if you can stop or leave when the police arrive, you’re in control of yourself.

If you remember the fight being recorded by your friend, you are consciously aware of what’s going on.

If you know where to hit so the bruises won’t show, how much more in control can you be?

Still…people will just not admit that they are the ones who are responsible for their own violence.   People are loathe to do that.  And, in a way, that’s kind of a positive thing.

Think about it.  If you cannot admit you are the cause of the violence, might it be because you think what you did is wrong?   And that other people will judge you to be a “bad person”?

Well, that’s the good news.

The bad news is, there are entire segments of the population where violence is becoming more acceptable.  So that reluctance to admit you are violent may become a thing of the past.

Aside #1: It won’t become a thing of the past in psychiatric hospitals or outpatient clinics, because the counselor doesn’t want to hear anything that isn’t the “right” thing to say regarding anger.  Otherwise the patient/client could be stuck there a lot longer.

The thing is, not doing something because you might get caught/punished/condemned for it is not a very effective way to control your actions.  And it’s not a very evolved way of thinking, either, but we won’t address that (much) today.

If fear of being caught and punished was such a good deterrant, then most of our laws would be so effective that the jails would be empty.  Clearly this is not the case.

My opinion about what’s at the bottom of all this is…entitlement.

Aside #2: No, not “entitlements” as in “food stamps”.

Entitlement, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary is “the condition of having the right to have, do, or get something; the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges).”

I had a psychology professor once who stated that people become violent when something or someone is blocking their goals.  I contend that he didn’t look deep enough into that.

Again, entitlement.  “I deserve to get my goals met.”

In the case of people reacting with violence to such minor behavior as a “dirty look” or a perceived insult of some kind, the thinking is, “I deserve to control how you act around me.”

So, in a weird way, it’s still about control…even as people state that they were out of control when they hit someone.

“She looked at me funny so I hit her.”  I heard that a lot when I taught anger management.

“Why would that bother you, though?” I would ask.

“I know she was thinking bad things about me, I could see it on her face, and she doesn’t have the right to do that.

So, the entitled attitude is that you have the right to control what other people think about you. Or about your mama, your partner, your kids…

So there’s that.  And then there’s an unfortunate twist on that way of thinking…