/Living in a world of despair

Living in a world of despair

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

There is much controversy over whether mental illness is a significant cause of mass shootings, which are becoming a common occurrence, notably in the gun-crazy United States of America.

Whenever another mass shooting occurs, many conclude that mental illness was to blame.

Two of last week’s most horrific mass shootings – one in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and the other in Lewiston, Maine are examples. When you read about a Sault man shooting to death a woman, his own three children, then himself how can you not think ‘this guy was mentally ill.’

Or the Maine massacre in which a man went on a rapid-fire rampage in a bowling alley, then a bar. How can someone kill 18 people, wound another 13 and not be mentally ill?

The Maine killer had been treated for mental illness earlier this year, but the Sault rifleman was not known to have anything wrong with him mentally except a bad temper.

The general public tends to link mental illness with mass shootings and other violence. Psychiatry experts, however, say severe mental illness is not a key factor in most mass murders.

A study by Columbia University in New York reports that only five per cent of mass shootings are related to severe mental illness. The experts, however, have a much narrower definition of mental illness than the general public.

The experts consider severe mental illness as schizophrenia or psychotic disorders and not lesser problems like depression and substance abuse. Most of us think anyone acting beyond what we consider normal as a bit crazy. 

Our federal government also has a wider definition of mental illness, reporting that one in three Canadians will be affected by mental illness in their lifetime.

Mental illness is a major problem worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that roughly 450 million people currently struggle with mental illness. It is considered to be the leading cause of disability worldwide.

But all the talk about it being a major factor in mass killings is a red herring that takes attention away from the real issue – guns. Without mental illness there would still be mass shootings. Without guns there would be no mass shootings.

Soldiers, law enforcement, hunters and sport shooters are the people who should be allowed guns. There is no need for anyone else to have one. And there are plenty of rules and regulations to ensure that those allowed to have them use them safely and responsibly.

Instead of debating how much of a factor mental health is in mass shootings we should be discussing how mental illness is affecting so many other aspects of our lives. 

Numerous surveys and studies report that world unhappiness has increased to record highs. They point to a growing trend in which negative feelings such as worry, sadness and anger rose by 27 per cent around the world between 2010 and 2018.

WHO estimates that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. More than 4,000 Canadians kill themselves every year – an average of 11 a day.

Canadian medical authorities say drug overdoses now account for more deaths than automobile accidents.

The overall problem of mental illness – not just how it might affect mass killings – needs to become a No. 1 priority for our society. What’s making the world so unhappy and how do we change that?

The role of digital media is a good place to start examining the problem. Time on the Internet, gaming, texting and social media have taken us away from two key elements for creating happiness – exercise and being with friends.

Too many people spend more time in front of screens than on exercising or having face- to-face contact with friends. Also, digital media gives us more contact with the negative and destructive side of humanity than with the good things happening around us.

People say things online that they would never say in person. Things that often lead to hurt feelings, bullying and other nastiness that feeds mental health issues.

We need to become more informed and thinking intelligently about all these issues if we don’t want to live in a world that falls deeper into despair.