Dear Mr. O’Donnell:
I have waited a few days before writing this letter, hoping that I would become more eloquent or the words you spoke on Tuesday less upsetting. Neither has happened.
Although I do not watch your show all the time, I respect you: a quote by you is on this blog’s sidebar. Usually, I agree with your positions on things, or if I don’t agree I am nevertheless not angered by what you say. Tuesday was different.
As I said, I don’t watch your show all the time, but I do watch The Rachel Maddow Show pretty faithfully. It was while I was waiting for TRMS on Tuesday that I caught the tail end of a segment that you did with Chris Hayes on All In.
“I don’t know when he lost his mind,” you said of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter. ‘When he was up in that hotel room he was stark, raving, mad.”
I wanted to cry.
When you talk about the shooter as being “stark, raving, mad” or when Donald Trump calls him “demented,” or when everyone from Eugene Robinson to most of the people I read on Facebook say “Of course Paddock was disturbed. Who in his right mind mows down innocent strangers at a country music festival?” , life becomes harder for people like me. People who have an actual, as in “diagnosed by medical professionals, not television pundits or newspaper columnists,” mental illness.
Stephen Paddock may have had a mental illness. Who knows? That has not been determined yet. But he will be assumed to have had one because of the “nobody does that” line of thinking. It wasn’t that he was evil; he was crazy. Interestingly enough, I have never heard anyone make that argument about the men who flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center.
When mental illness is seen to inevitably be at the root of horrific violence, the stigma against the mentally ill rises. This stigma costs people jobs. It costs them friends. (A now-former friend told me she would never want to be friends with or work with someone who had a severe mental illness. I asked her “What about me?” “You’re okay,” she replied. “I know you.”) It can cost them custody of their children.
And it costs others just as much: stigma increases the reluctance of some — especially men — to seek help. I’ve known people who refused therapy because they didn’t want it to appear on their health records, lest their employer somehow find out.
Some people who claim they have compassion for the mentally ill nevertheless perpetuate stereotypes or stigma. One so very compassionate friend of a friend on Facebook suggested that we needed a registry of the mentally ill, with information provided by doctors and pharmacists. If you believe that only mentally ill people commit these sorts of horrors, her suggestion is imminently logical. Unfortunately, in this country, the government might be more likely to create a registry of the mentally ill than a registry of gun owners. After all, a gun registry wouldn’t have given authorities any useful information whatsoever, other than that a man in Nevada had his own personal arsenal of semi-automatics.
Evil exists in the world, Mr. O’Donnell. Evil people exist in the world, and sometimes commit atrocities. But evil people who commit horrible acts are not intrinsically mentally ill.
Evil is not the same as insanity.
Please, I beg of you, for all of us out here who will have to deal with fallout from this massacre (as we did after Charleston, and Orlando, and Sandy Hook), do not elide the difference.