Mass Shootings and Mental Health

Before I kick this all off, I wanna say this is not meant to be in any way connected to the current public debate on gun control and the second amendment. 

While I feel that’s a very important discussion, I don’t want anything I’m about to say to be colored by peoples opinions on that subject, so I’m abstaining from injecting my personal views here.

This essay isn't about guns or constitutional rights. My concern is combating the social stigma surrounding mental illness. To do that I need to illustrate that the atrocities we're seeing can(and often are) come from the hands of an average person. The shootings aren't carried out exclusively by people who suffer from a mentally disorder. In reality, most of this paper addresses mental illness and the change I'm suggesting to society would have massive benefits even if we weren't forced to deal with this horrible crisis. I do have a solution that's centered around mental health, but it doesn't focus on treating the mentally ill in the sense you're likely thinking.

I propose teaching mental health skills (specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) as a required part of general public education and making those same courses available for free to any adult willing to learn.

In order for you to see why the solution will work, I need to you to understand how being mentally unhealthy and being mentally ill are different.

Yes, there’s a mental dysfunction in a shooter, poor mental health is the source of a mass shooter's problem, but a person managing their mental health poorly isn't the same as having a mental disorder. 

A shooter's dysfunction stems from a combination of intense social pressure (people really are a bunch of insensitive cunts and they pride themselves on it, after all) and the stress we all go through in life combined with poor coping skills and habits that are mentally/emotionally unhealthy. All of this could happen to anyone, even people completely free of mental illness.

I just want to stop the demonization of people like myself who suffer from mental illness. Mental illnesses are not to blame, even if poor mental health maintenance is.

All knowledge I have, I’ve gained through my extensive interaction with the mental health community as a result of my diagnoses: Bipolar disorder 1 w/ psychotic features, Antisocial Personality Disorder aka Psychopathy/Sociopathy, and PTSD. 

(You likely saw the words "psychopathy/sociopathy" and thought, "Ohmagerd! He haznt got da feelz n he do murdering for the lulz!" Those are extremely common misconceptions. I feel the full spectrum of emotions, and I'm generally non-violent. ASPD means I'm an emotionally abusive, pathologically manipulative con-man and a thief; I'll get to all this later)

All of them first started creating problems when I was in high school, led to my first hospitalization as an adult 13 years ago when I was 18, have continued my entire adult life, and will always be something I work to manage.

The information is medically accurate, but I’m not a doctor, so it's by no means comprehensive.

In order to get started, the first thing I need to make clear is that unless you’re a mental health professional, in school to be one, or a patient who’s had extensive interaction with the mental health community like myself, everything you know about mental health, mental illnesses, and mental health treatment is just wrong.

The general public’s knowledge of mental health is just a big ball of misinformation, half truths, and misconceptions that prevents treatment in a number of ways.

The average person knows a whole lotta nothing, that's the biggest problem when it comes to mental health treatment. All people gotta you gotta do to fix it is forget everything they think they know about the subject. No big deal.

If that applies to you, I ain’t mad at ya homie. I know it ain’t your fault; it's an effect of something called "Stigma": The black mark of shame on someone's image and reputation left by a diagnosis.

It occurs when mass amounts of misinformation gets ingrained in public consciousness, then society ingrains it on others, and everyone’s belief in the untrue thing confirms it in everyone’s mind.

The most common problem is that literally every term our society uses in day-to-day conversation is getting used incorrectly. When you use the term "depression" to refer to the regular "down-in the dumps" malaise everyone feels from time to time, it makes it so everyone associates that normal feelings with the word. Then, when someone with major depressive syndrome says they suffer from clinical depression, nobody understands they're saying they lay in bed for a week at a time without eating and make up suicide plans as a hobby. Because of this people living with a mental disorder don't get taken seriously, because society has trivialized most of the common ones in this manner. 


The stigma makes it so that any time someone acts up or steps out of line in any way, it gets associated with mental illness. In reality, most of the outbursts people see in public that get associated with mental illness are caused by people not handling their emotions properly or drug abuse. (True American classics)

No matter how immune you think you are to groupthink’s logical pitfalls, you’ve most likely been duped by this stigma.

Another problem created by the stigma is that we as a society just never ever talk about mental health in any context. Generally, talking openly about mental health is met with a mixture of fear and/or dismissive ridicule; I don’t know why, but just expressing curiosity about the subject seems frowned on.

The way our society views mental illness acts as a barrier to treatment. It intimidates people out of seeking treatment. It makes people go into denial and refuse treatment. Keeping a diagnosis secret makes people feel cut off from the world, but telling others can scare them away. That means people with a diagnosis never know what to do in regard to opening up about it. We're told we need to get proper peer supports in our lives, but such a peer support is generally non-existent. We can't even come out to our friends about our diagnoses in most cases. There's ridicule, especially in younger crowds. People will say stuff like “You on your meds bro?”  to shut you down when they don’t like what your saying or doing. People use the mental illness to treat you like you're incapable of processing reality, which is almost never the case. 

Let me make this clear:


(normies need to improve their mental health maintenance more than anybody imo)

I have two of the most severe diagnoses imaginable, and the hardest part of living with them is dealing with it is society’s attitudes and misconceptions.

I promise a large portion of people aren't even taking this essay seriously because I admitted to having a mental health diagnosis. People hear that and automatically assume I'm incapable of rational thought. I guarantee there's people that will respond to this like I'm talking gibberish even though they know it makes perfect sense. That is one of the many way stigma marginalizes people with mental disorders.

Before I can continue onto the shooter crisis, I need to clear up some of these misconceptions:

Statistically speaking, the vast majority of mentally ill people are non-violent, and mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims violent crime than the perpetrators.

Statistically, there is a higher rate of violence amongst mentally ill populations, but the vast majority of people with mental diagnoses are non-violent.

People have thinking that goes like this: "A person would need to be crazy to go on a shooting spree, so obviously anyone who goes on a shooting spree has some diagnosable mental disorder whether a doctor has diagnosed them with it or not. We need better mental health treatment to identify people with the disorders as soon as possible! We need to start calling out creepy people and force them to get treatment! We all know it's the nerdy quiet type who does this; if we force them to get help sooner we stop this from happening!"

That thinking is based on misinformation and misunderstanding; it's totally incorrect. You can be 100% disorder free, and still be pushed to the point of lashing out violently if you do not take care of your mental health. This is not an issue of undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders. Mental illness isn't to blame for mass shooters.

The thing people almost universally fail to realize when discussing mental health is that everybody has habits that effect their mental and emotional health, just like we do our physical health. Not everyone who's physically unhealthy has cancer, right? Mental health works the same way. Not everyone who’s mentally unhealthy has a diagnosable mental illness.

The most important of these mental health habits is coping skills, or the things you do to manage stress, anger, sadness and things like that.

As an example, a guitarist can pick up his guitar and just thrash the strings to release his anger to clear his mind of it. This is a healthy coping skill.

Stuffing your emotions and drinking till you explode would be a good example of a very common unhealthy coping skill.

Intense social pressure and stress generated by life's circumstances applied to somebody with bad coping skills and other unhealthy mental health habits pushes them to snap and lash out at the world around them.

This type of mental breakdown is what's happening in shooters. Having a mental breakdown in this manner doesn't require or imply a diagnosable mental disorder.

In order to illustrate how I know this, I need to explain my disorders some so you can see they aren't associated with lashing out violently.

Just to clear up some terminology, lots of things qualify as "mental disorders". The term is applied to anything that causes very specific symptoms and patterns of behavior. These are usually mood disorders like depression, anxiety disorders like includes OCD, or personality disorders. Most of these disorder exist as a spectrum and almost everyone exhibits some behaviors on those spectrums, but they're not diagnosed as disorders until they interfere with day-to-day functioning in some way. Even then, they're generally not problematic if managed properly.

The unwanted behaviors are almost never lashing out when overwhelmed or upset. (Lashing out violently due to frustration and/ or anger is what the shooters are doing in case you forgot)

Lashing out like that is a symptom of poor coping mechanisms in most cases. Violence is slightly more common among mentally ill populations, but not overwhelmingly so and it occurs in non-mentally ill populations as well.

A "severe mental disorder" or "SMD" is exactly what the name implies: A mental disorder that's abnormally obstructive to daily function. These are disorders that're so disruptive to day-to-day life that maintaining long term employment and functioning “normally” for extended periods of time becomes next to impossible, even when medicated. Don't misinterpret that; many people learn to manage their SMD and function just fine, but in some cases they can be so severe they force people onto SSI.

I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you exactly what disorders qualify as SMDs. I know schizophrenia is an SMD, so are some extreme forms of major depressive syndrome. Like I said up at the top, I'm lucky enough to be blessed with two of these magical dysfunctions: Bipolar 1/ psychotic features and Antisocial Personality Disoder, which are considered SMDs for different reasons.  

Bipolar is disruptive to my normal functions because it produces two extreme mood states in a repeating cycle of mania followed by depression. Both phases impair my ability to hold work in some way if left unmanaged.

ASPD makes it hard to function in society because it stems from my subconscious mind rejecting all social constructs, which means rejecting society's foundations on principle. It's hard to contribute to a society that you outright reject subconsciously. In addition to rejecting the concept of employment,  the perceptual disorders it creates make maintaining long term relationships next to impossible for a sociopath. (Paradoxically we're known to establish new relationships far better than the average person despite that fact)

First off, Bipolar doesn't mean anything close to what the general public thinks it does. The way people use bipolar to describe mood swings and indecisiveness is just plain incorrect.

Bipolar is a repetitive cycle of mood states that consists of 3 phases: normal, manic/hypomanic, and depressive. This cycle doesn't play out in front of your eyes many times in under a day. Mood swings can be a symptom of mania, but they aren't the most common or most disruptive one by any means. If someone's bipolar cycle is a month long, that person is considered fast cycling.  

The disorder usually diagnosed as either bipolar 1 or bipolar 2 depending on what phase is most disruptive. Both categories pass through all three phases and experience the negative side effects from them. I’m diagnosed bipolar 1, which means my mania is most disruptive phase. (There's a few other classifications for Bipolar, but these are the main ones)

There's no real "start point" but I'll start this explanation with the "normal phase" where I have no symptoms and there’s no real difference between myself and an average person. It'd be nice to stay here forever, but the cycle still continues even when I'm medicated.

Eventually, my mood state transitions into a "manic phase" thats defined by high energy, high confidence that sometimes becomes delusions of grandeur, racing thoughts, paranoia, and impulsive reckless behavior. I stay up for days cause I’m so excited about life. If I try to sleep in this state, my racing thoughts and paranoid delusions keep my mind from shutting down. I often describe it as feeling high on meth even though I haven't touched a drug. This feels great, but it's dangerous because it can cause self-destructive decisions, and progresses into psychosis. I take an antipsychotic to treat this phase, and it makes the symptoms manageable to an extent. The medication doesn't make me completely free of all symptoms; it just makes life liveable.

Sometimes mood swings are a part of this phase, but they're wayyyyyy down on the list of things I look for when I'm trying to decide if I'm having a manic episode.

Mania has made me straight quit jobs mid shift on an impulse, I've gotten fired because I was acting strange due to delusions, and I've moved too fast without thinking and made stupid mistakes that got me fired. I've ruined relationships with paranoid outbursts, lost friends by belittling them out of extreme overconfidence, and been driven out of social circles by the reputation my out of touch behavior created. There's a lot about this that make it difficult to hold work and maintain a social life, but none of it makes me more likely to carry out a terrorist attack.

You may be thinking, "But what about the delusional psychosis thing you mentioned?" Chill homie, I'll get' there.

People with bipolar 2 suffer from a less intense form of mania called "hypomania" in place of this phase, but in exchange the next phase is more disruptive.

After being that high up for an extended period, there’s a crash into a depressive state that's nowhere near as fun, but still makes life extremely difficult. This phase fits the symptoms of the general depression: lack of motivation, hopelessness, suicidal ideation, irritability, and so on. Sometimes I lay in bed for a week straight and struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed and eat. I just shut down stop taking care of myself completely. I'll easily go a month without changing my clothes or taking a shower if I let it get too out of hand. If I can't find motivation to eat, how likely do you think getting in my car and driving to a job sounds? 

The normal class of medication used to treat depression, SSRIs, trigger mania and can’t be given to people who have bipolar 1. Alternative depression medications don’t work as well, and to be honest I still haven't found a medication that successfully treats this phase of my cycle. I’ve turned to drinking and hard drugs to cope, leading to some disastrous consequences.

This depressive phase also eventually passes and I return to the normal phase for a few months, at which point the cycle begins again. The cycle's length varies from person to person. For me, fully going through the cycle takes about a year. 

That's the simple explanation. There's also a possibility for a "mixed state" with all the high energy and racing thoughts that make mania dangerous combined with the hopeless melancholy of depression. I've never experienced this, a person close to me who has Bipolar 2 explained it to me. From what I'm told, this is a situation where suicide risk is especially high.

My diagnosis also has a qualifier tacked onto the end, and the full mood disorder is "Bipolar disorder 1 w/ psychotic features". That means I'm prone to psychosis. 

Psychosis, also referred to as insanity, is a complete break from reality. It's a rare condition that usually stems from a severe mental disorder like bipolar or schizophrenia, but it can be triggered by heavy drug use as well. The symptoms are hallucinations and delusions, which come in a number of different forms. No matter how those symptoms present themselves, they always adds up to a complete breakdown of rational thinking followed by a subsequent break from reality.

I generally develop some delusions if leave my mania untreated, but I’ve only been hospitalized for psychosis once, a little over 10 years ago. Looking back I can confidently say I've had two other two other manic episodes that progressed into the total loss of reason called psychosis: One episode I got through thanks to the supervision of my Dad, who attributed the behavior to a magic fungus we'd discovered growing wild in some cow pastures near his house in Florida. That mystical mycelium almost certainly contributed, but this the only time the behavior was attributable directly to drugs it's more like the drugs triggering predisposition rather than drugs causing the behavior directly. The other one landed me in jail for a theft I committed at the behest of my CIA handler (re: some rando) who needed me to steal 22oz beer because <Error 420: logical reasons not found>. (Makes sense, right?)

In all three cases I was peaceful.In one I absolutely refused to swing on anyone, even while I was getting jumped by eight dudes. (You can read my memoir "The Beatdown" for more on this high-octane pacifism)

The way they always start is manic overconfidence making me stop second guessing my thoughts and beliefs. That's the first key step in a process that ends in a complete breakdown of my critical thinking. Without the ability to criticize my thoughts, I begin believing obviously ridiculous things. The racing, repetitive, and outrageous thoughts feed off each other and form delusions. Once the delusions start, my mind picks out any tiny detail it can to reinforce them. The delusions slowly pil on top of each other, until I completely lose touch with reality.

The time I was hospitalized, I thought my entire life was fake and everyone was actors just like the movie "The Truman Show". I thought all of it was being organized by aliens, and if I could figure out their code, they would take me to live in their space fortress. I spent about two days spewing gibberish at anyone who crossed my path sure as shit the next rando was gonna beam me up. Nobody beamed me up. I'd hit 'em with purest microdoses of crazy, but they were trained extremely well in the art of "not actually being hired by aliens". (Very ancient technique) Instead, they assured me I was deep in batshit country and I needed to Toby McGuire my ass back to reality. That didn't matter though, 'cause I knew it was all part of E.T.s script and I was on to their game.

"Of course they're gonna *say* they don't believe me; that's why they're getting paid to be on set today!" (That's just basic logic. Duh.)

Eventually Mamadukes got worried about the weird comments I was making, and told me I needed to take my meds. I saw through her game though: You see, the meds were how the aliens shut down my psychic abilities and weakened the superpowers that made me valuable as a reality TV star on their planet. This was a test to see if I'd discovered their chicanery.(What superpowers? Idk whatever ones the aliens didn't want me to have)

"You can't fool me, actress who's been paid substantially to play the part of 'My Mother' for decades!" I thought to myself with pride.

I'd lost the ability to go, "Hold up a sec, Dave. Maybe, just maybe, you're not the star of an intergalactic reality TV show, and thinking is a just a little batshit psychotic," to shut down that obviously bonkers kind of thinking.

Instead, I told my "Mom"(aka alien loving scum #4) that I wasn't taking the pills because, "I know" 

The space cadet put on he best acting chops and asked, "Huh? What do you know?"

Hah! That's exactly how I predicted the space-lizards (and/or birdpeople?) would have her respond. I'd figured out the code! 

I hit the acting star from the stars with this work of art: "I know how Socrates took over the world!" (Don't ask) 

She said that meant it was time to go get a psych eval! I knew *exactly* what that meant: The plan... worked... perfectly...

Here's what I told myself after Mom told me I had to take a psych eval:


I did not go to outer space to live as a god. I went to the psych ward to live as a patient. (But I used the code perfectly.... were the aliens tricking me all along or something?!?)

At no point was I ever violent though. I was actually quite calm, content, and cooperative. The problem wasn't that I was uncontrollable and violent to the point I was at risk hurting people. The problem was I thought I lived in a "Truman Show" put on by aliens who were going to beam me up to a space fortress, and left to my own devices I would have eventually hurt myself.

Nobody could plan a trip to the beach in that state, much less a terrorist attack. I was more a threat to myself than anyone else.

Next up is my other diagnosis "Antisocial Personality Disorder"... Those of you hip to mental health terminology know this means I'm a sociopath:

Clinically speaking, sociopathy and psychopathy are both diagnosed as "Antisocial Personality Disorder". As of now, there is no difference between the two terms in the DSM-V, but there's a lot of debate on that.

Antisocial doesn't mean what you think it means. What you call being antisocial is actually referred to as "Social Anxiety" in the mental health community. 

Antisocial means I'm against (anti) social constructs like morality, etiquette, gender norms, and things of that nature. I'm literally against all of them. If it's a social construct, I reject it on principle for being an imaginary thing born from groupthink. This in turn leads to me disregarding people's rights, boundaries, and emotions. That of course creates a lot of friction.  

I struggle holding long term work because I don't feel the pretense of "contributing to society" is valid; society itself is a social construct, after all. I've lived most of my life as a career criminal because I don't see the need to be ashamed by that lifestyle the way you would, and genuinely enjoyed the game of outsmarting the law. I've got two other essays on the subject, but essentially the disorder makes me subconsciously disregard other people's rights, feelings, and boundaries. That obviously pisses a lot of people off, and when they (rightfully) stand up for themselves, my subconscious mind views it as a personal attack against me that I need to retaliate and defend myself from. I also lie and manipulate pathologically for my personal gain, and if I'm being totally honest, fun. Sometimes I won't even get anything out of it, I just gain a sick satisfaction off knowing I convinced someone to act against their own interest to please me. This didn't usually involve getting people to hurt themselves, it rarely involved physical pain, it was more getting people to put me above themselves to feed my ego. Especially girlfriends I would convince into degrading themselves "because if they loved me they would care about keeping me happy". That's pretty fuggin' deplorable and disgusting, I know. For the record, I've adopted reform and made quite a bit of progress, particularly in the realm of honesty. Even when I was all-in on the thinking and completely unashamed of it, it wasn't something that led to me getting violent. I avoided physical confrontation as much as someone who stole that much could in order to avoid legal consequences, and even had a rule where I'd never swing first. That doesn't mean I never fought anyone, I would just coax people I wanted to fight into taking the first swing. The sociopaths you're thinking of that are known for being serial killers were also masochists who derived pleasure from people's pain.

Generally speaking, ASPD leads to people being manipulative, thieving con-men, not mass murderers. My alcoholism has led to more violent outbursts than either of my mental disorders.

Alrighty folks, that should have given what you needed. Onto the main event: 

To start, absolutely none of these shooters are psychotic in the legal/clinical sense of the word.

The reasoning behind their motivations and the logic they’re using in their selection of targets, planning, and eventual execution of these attacks shows an understanding of reality and critical thinking that's not present in people suffering from psychosis.

Again, the vast majority of mentally ill people are non-violent, and mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims violent crime than the perpetrator.

Statistically speaking, there is a higher rate of violence among mentally ill populations, but mentally ill people are still overwhelmingly non-violent and more likely to be a victims of violent crimes than the ones carrying them out.

Many TV experts like to posthumously speculate on a diagnosis for shooters, but diagnosis based on subjective second hand accounts by someone who's never had contact with the patient is impossible.

Some shooters who live through their attacks and get brought to justice are then diagnosed, but social pressure on the institutions involved is substantial and can influence a  doctors decision to produce such a diagnosis.

That means these diagnoses aren’t as reliable as one made prior to the event. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should assume a diagnosis made that way is false either, but they aren’t the silver-bullet contradiction to my statement people often think them to be.

Like I said in the beginning, there is a mental dysfunction in a shooter and poor mental health is the source of a mass shooter's problem. By now you should see how they're different, but here's a copypaste from the beginning because redundant repetition is my favorite things to do because I love repeating myself redundantly more than anything else in the world:

Intense social pressure and stress generated by life's circumstances applied to somebody with bad coping skills and other unhealthy mental health habits pushes them to snap and lash out at the world around them. This type of mental breakdown is what's happening in shooters. You can be 100% disorder free, and still be pushed to the point of lashing out violently if you do not take care of your mental health. This is not an issue of undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders; it's a lack of proper mental health maintenance throughout society as a whole. In most cases, the shootings could've been prevented if the shooter took care of their mental health better.

(A sociopath had to give you a lecture in compassion, Society. Think about that for a second)

Instead, the lesson to take from this essay is: 

If we teach proper mental health skills, specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) as a part of public education before improper mental health maintenance can create unwanted behaviors instead of teaching it after the lack of proper maintenance skills creates problems in a treatment setting, people would be pushed into the mental states the mass shooters find themselves in far less often. 

This would make people better able to care for their own mental health, and the average person would be better able to look out for the mental health of the people around them. Society would become a more therapeutic environment that acts as a barrier to these mental breakdowns. This is the only way to address the root of the problem that's causing the mass shooter epidemic.

If we break the stigma around mental health, and make the general public more aware of their own mental health needs and habits, people will be better equipped to care for themselves and those around them. All of society would be much better off if proper mental health management were more common, regardless of the shooter crisis; saving lives is just a bonus.
I just wanna say something to anyone who feels they may need mental help:


Many people are scared out of seeking treatment by stigma. 


Don’t be. People don’t know shit and their judgements don't mean a goddamn thing.

Chances are you just need to practice better habits to get some improvement, but even if you need meds they're not as bad as many people make them sound.

All information is private, and they can’t hospitalize you unless you express a desire to hurt yourself or someone else. 

If you have such thoughts, you should be honest. I understand wanting to hide them to stay out of the hospital. I’ve done it enough to know it's not worth the trouble.

Some doctors are asshats, but their diagnoses are generally accurate and you should at least try to look at yourself honestly to see if it may fit in some way.

A lot of what counselors tell people to do *sounds* like useless horseshit, but it's not. I used to write the stuff off and only give it half-assed attempts, then turn around and go, "I knew that bullshit wouldn't work." In reality, the stuff did end up being very effective once I set my dismissive attitude aside and gave the stuff an honest effort. A lot of it's still trial-and-error, but give everything some time and some genuine effort before giving up on it and trying something else. Eventually, you'll develop a custom toolkit that makes life easier and opens up a whole new world of possibilities. 

I only say this because stigma prevented me from accepting my diagnoses for years and a poor attitude stopped treatment from having any effect. The created a lot of heartache for me and anyone who came in contact with me, and abandoning that mindset has changed my life in a way I never believed possible. If a drunk-ass, bipolar sociopath like me can put down the bottle and learn to be happy, there's an answer out there for anybody who keeps their mind open and listens for it.

I’m what happens when you live by the motto ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ then you fuck up and survive
— A Stigmatized Mental Patient
Dave BarlettaComment