Power Centers

Is Tucson Massacre More About Mental Health Than Politics?

The Pima County Sheriff's Department released this photo of Jared  Loughner, who's charged with killing six people and injuring 14 others,  including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). i i

The Pima County Sheriff's Department released this photo of Jared Loughner, who's charged with killing six people and injuring 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Pima County Sheriff's Department hide caption

itoggle caption Pima County Sheriff's Department
The Pima County Sheriff's Department released this photo of Jared  Loughner, who's charged with killing six people and injuring 14 others,  including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

The Pima County Sheriff's Department released this photo of Jared Loughner, who's charged with killing six people and injuring 14 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).

Pima County Sheriff's Department

There's been much talk over the weekend about the role political intolerance may have played in the mass shootings in Tucson, AZ that left six dead, among them a federal judge, and 14 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) who was shot through the head.

Some have even tried to infer the alleged gunman's political motivations from the readings Jared Lee Loughner, 22, listed on various web sites with one side or the other claiming he was either a right-wing or left-wing extremist, respectively.

This very argument seems to be it's own proof about how ready many people are in our hyperpartisan times to blame those on the other side of the political divide for pretty much anything bad that happens.

The increasing amount of information emerging about Loughner is forming a portrait of someone whose behavior worried those who found themselves in the same room with him.

The Washington Post has printed worried e-mails from a woman who was in a community college algebra class with him earlier this year.

An excerpt:

From June 1, the first day of class:
"One day down and nineteen to go. We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today, I'm not certain yet if he was on drugs (as one person surmised) or disturbed. He scares me a bit. The teacher tried to throw him out and he refused to go, so I talked to the teacher afterward. Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon."

Pima County Community College officials eventually barred Loughner from class and based readmission on the condition that he get a mental evaluation.

To the degree that some of the current debate tries to score political points by attempting to pin the blame for a senseless act on political ideology, it seems to be missing the point.

In her piece in Salon.com, Laura Miller puts it well:

By studying Loughner's book list for clues to the political leanings that somehow "drove" him to commit murder, commentators are behaving a lot like crazy people themselves. Paranoids are prone to scouring newspaper articles and the monologues of late-night comedians for imaginary coded messages that confirm their "secret knowledge" about the world. But those coded messages aren't there — it's just random stuff with no special significance. The truth about mental illness is that it strikes without regard to political affiliation or ideological orientation, and it turns beautiful minds into nonsense factories...

Miller goes on to echo a thought no doubt many people have had since Saturday. What can society do, if anything, to protect itself from the admittedly small subset of the mentally ill whose disturbed thoughts lead them to obtain a gun and mow down innocent people?

That seems to be where much of the energy would be better spent, not using the Tucson shopping center attacks as a political weapon.

Dr. Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist, makes the point on FoxNews.com that there are plenty of cracks to fall through in the U.S. for the severely mentally ill, especially young people.

As a forensic psychiatrist who also has run community mental health centers, hospitals and clinics, I can tell you for sure, without any question, that the mental health care delivery system in this country is shoddy and shattered and without any hope at present of dealing effectively with sick individuals like Jared Loughner. There are slim resources and no strategy, whatsoever.

That’s the very, very worrisome story behind this tragedy.

It is, indeed.

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