No More Normal: Gun Control, Mental Health & Stigma

The NRA’s solution to reducing gun violence? The USA should consider a national database for the mentally ill!

Last Friday, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said, in the response to the Newtown shootings:

“How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?”

In his speech, LaPierre stresses that without a national database, our society won’t know about all the potentially killers hiding in the shadows.

With the latest highly-publicized shooting happening only a few days ago in Rochester, gun control has become a hot topic within our current public discourse.

Putting my personal feelings towards stricter gun control aside,  I want to discuss instead how problematic a “national database of the mentally ill” would be.

LaPierre’s words are disgusting and appalling. His statement treats people suffering from mental illnesses as an “other”. They are framed as a large, homogenous group that “normal” people need to monitor. Reading his words, I honestly feel as if LaPierre sees people with mental illnesses as a lower class of human or even a separate species.

LaPierre is clearly out of touch with reality.

A database would only serve to further stigmatize mental illness in our society. We need to support those living with mental illnesses, not shut them out.

Currently, our society often treats people with mental illnesses as weak, inferior or even like “monsters“.  If the American government imposed a national database, people with mental illnesses might fear judgment or public humiliation. Mental health stigma often results in inequality when seeking employment, housing or educational opportunities.

The database would only serve to inhibit those who have problems from seeking help or getting adequate treatment.

I do feel that background checks are certainly necessary for when purchasing guns. However, not everyone with a mental illness should be considered dangerous.  According to the American Psychiatric Association, only 4 to 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illnesses.

Mental illness is extremely common, encompassing a diverse range of disorders. Looking closer to home, approximately one fifth of Canadians suffer from some form of mental illness.

What does pointing out the commonality of mental illness prove? That there is no “normal”.

Most of you probably have multiple family members and friends who suffer from some form of mental illness. They are not monsters. They are regular people, who, with help and support, are able to function and often make significant contributions to society.

Please, let us not disrespect ourselves, our family, our friends and our neighbours, in thinking otherwise.

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STM Philosophy: Margaret Wente & University Degrees

“A university degree is no longer an automatic ticket to a decent job and a pleasant living.”

This is a quote from Globe and Mail columnist’s Margaret Wente’s piece  Quebec’s university students are in for a shock, written during a time when massive student protests were rocking Quebec society. It’s been months since I read this column, so it’s a bit funny that I recalled it this afternoon.

Today, on the long commute from downtown Montreal to lovely Dollard-des-Ormeaux, I took out a well-loved book to distract myself from my cold fingers: Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood.”

After a mere fifteen pages, I read a passage that piqued my interest:

“Yup. When I graduate, I’m going to work for the Geographical Survey Institute and make muh-muh-maps.”

“I was impressed anew by the variety of dreams and goals that life could offer….The thought struck me that society needed a few people – just a few – who were interested in and even passionate about map-making.”

After reading Murakami’s words, Wente’s column immediately came to mind. Juxtapose the previous passage with a quote from Wente:

(speaking about the student protesters) “They’re the sociology, anthropology, philosophy, arts, and victim-studies students, whose degrees are increasingly worthless in a world that increasingly demands hard skills. The world will not be kind to them. They’re the baristas of tomorrow and they don’t even know it, because the adults in their lives have sheltered them and encouraged their mass flight from reality.”

This line of thinking seems so narrow-minded- calling whole disciplines worthless. We need all kinds of people for our society to function. I also believe  that these so-called “soft subjects” are important for our progression into a more tolerable, equal society.

It has often been said that having culture distinguishes humans from animals. I think this is completely accurate. Fields such as medicine or engineering address our basic needs. Yet, humans also need culture and social relationships in order to thrive.

I don’t think a university degree should just be viewed as a means to an end- getting a job. However, it becomes complicated when looking at the current tough economic situation.  Some people might not have the luxury to spend time studying subjects that don’t have a clear-cut path to a steady career.

Which is why I have ended up taking a post-graduate degree in Public Relations at Humber College- I wanted to improve my hard skills for the workplace.

This first blog post has been rather introspective. This comes during a break after a short but hectic (and fun!) few months. Also after a crazy period doing something completely different and beginning to live in a new city. I need to think a lot about where I am headed after I graduate in April.

This blog should help with this journey- it will function as an outlet to practice my developing writing skills and also to vent my opinions on current events.

Leave a comment to start a conversation!