Open Post on Mental Health

Mike Dwyer

Mike Dwyer is a former writer and contributor at Ordinary Times.

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78 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    What reason is there to believe he has any mental health issues? Why aren’t we debating the mental health status of the 9/11 hijackers? Hassan (Fort Hood shooting)? The DC snipers?

    Why are only white folks allowed to use mental health as an explanation for their terrorism?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Does that include religious radicalization? Specifically Islam? Because I haven’t heard *anyone* propose responding to Islamic terrorism with group therapy sessions.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


          Not sure why you are pushing back here. I’m sure you know that feelings of isolation, especially for immigrants in European nations where Muslims are more segregated, can play a factor in that sort of terrorism. And much of what we see in the US is indeed from ‘loners’ who we later find out don’t have much of a social life which leads to depression, etc.

          For those that belong to hate groups, I do think it is an interesting conversation about just how they arrived at that membership, especially if there is no history of this in their families or among friends.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            I’m pushing back because I’m frustrated that when white people act poorly, we have open threads about mental illness. And when Black and brown people act poorly, we have conversations about culture. It’s frustrating and part of the problem.Report

            • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


              The fact is, minorities generally don’t commit these kinds of crimes. It’s almost exclusively a white male problem. If you want to assume I am excusing their behavior because they were mentally unstable, you’re really reaching.

              So I guess the alternative is to assume all of these shooters are without mental issues, or you can speculate about the mental health of minorities that commit other kinds of crimes. Feel free to do either.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                What are “these kinds of crimes”? Mass shootings? Specifically? Not mass murder?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

                Um, yeah…I think we’re talking about mass shootings.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                Do you think the psychology of people who engage in mass shootings is sufficiently different from the psychology of people who engage in other forms of mass murder such that one group should be discussed in terms of mental health and the other not?

                Or… to go back to square one… why are we talking about mental health absent any evidence that this particular mass shooting was the result of atypical mental health?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

                I think we’re talking about mental health because so many of these shooters are clearly suffering from some kind of mental issues. And even if Roof is clinically sane, there does seem to be some linkage between mental health and radicalization.

                Again, if you think this is just smoke and mirrors, then are you comfortable saying that mental health plays no role in these types of events?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                “I think we’re talking about mental health because so many of these shooters are clearly suffering from some kind of mental issues.”

                What makes it clear in this case that makes you bring it up now?Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

                I don’t know that it is clear, but it is a clear factor in many of these shootings. Furthermore (again) he was radicalized in some way. That is a psychological transformation worth exploring, don’t you think?Report

              • Autolukos in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                He did indicate one source of his ideas, but for some reason people keep trying to change the subject when it is raised.Report

              • I guess I should thank you for that link. I suppose it’s better to be knowledgeably frightened and horrified than blissfully ignorant.

                For those who don’t click through (though you should), it’s an Atlantic piece about an organization called the Council of Conservative Citizens. Don’t let the word “conservative” fool you — it’s a direct descendent of the anti-civil rights White Citizen’s Councils — though it seems to fool way too many people, including officeholders, into thinking it’s respectable. (Whether Ann Coulter was fooled or just doesn’t give a crap, I won’t try to guess.)Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                In her defense, Ann Coulter did say that they aren’t racist because their is “no evidence” that they support segregation. Because only racists support segregation and only segregation supporters are racist.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Autolukos says:

                @autolukos @mike-schilling

                I thought that falling through the Internet rabbit-hole would have something to do with his ideas.

                I wonder what the solution is. Google and other search engines should probably do something about making sure crackpots don’t come up. I mentioned this before but social media and Internet searching is stupid. Facebook has done stuff like “You read this article about Purim recipes, would you also like this article about how Jews control the world’s banks?”

                There is probably education to be done in telling people how to detect bullshit.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                What exactly was radical about him? His ideas? Or his actions? Because I know *a lot* of people that hold his ideas. Hell, half of YouTube commenters seem to.

                Edited to add: So if it is his ideas that are radical, than we arguably need to classify racism as a mental illness (which I have heard people advocate for). If it is his actions, than we arguably need to classify all premeditated murder as evidence of a mental illness.

                Both of those things happen with far greater frequency than this focus on mass shootings indicates. So, honestly, I’m really not sure what you’re getting at.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:

                It’s one thing to hold racist views. It’s quite another to decide that you need to kill people to express them.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                He didn’t kill them to express his ideas. He killed them because he thought Black people were a threat to him.

                Seriously??? You think these killings were just the manifestation of an idea? Ugh.

                No. Dylaan Roof thought Black men were raping white women. He thought Black folks targeted white folks for violence. He thought he needed to defend himself from unruly Black folks. Where or where could he have gotten these ideas?Report

              • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’ll repeat: the connection between mental illness and radicalization is tenuous, and most studies find that the majority of radicalized individuals are not mentally ill, or at least not in currently diagnosable ways.

                There’s no reason to believe this man was mentally ill, currently, and of the various topics mentioned previously, this is the only one that currently serves no purpose.Report

              • Kim in reply to Chris says:

                Radicals, however, have a defined personality type, and that exists before they radicalize. Time for intervention before people lock themselves into a very closeminded system??Report

              • Lurker in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                I think perhaps that “we” is more just “you” discussing mental health issues. No?Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        No, it’s not. In fact, two of your links present original, mostly preliminary studies, and one of them finds a relationship between depression and radicalization while the other does not.

        For a more thorough look:

        We have no reason to believe this man was mentally ill other than that we cannot conceive of how a person could do such an absolutely horrible thing.Report

        • Kim in reply to Chris says:

          Is it an absolutely horrible thing?
          … to me it feels more like a person who dehumanized other people, and then was able to kill them.

          That feels less absolutely horrible than the person who willfully tortures his wife.Report

      • gregiank in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Any link between radical violence and mental health is thin at best. It’s not a bad hypothesis to start with but the links are deeply lacking. Firstly their sample of radicals is small which makes all research flaky. We don’t know if the people were mentally ill before they became radicals or if it was the process of becoming a violent radical that created any mental illness that might have been present even if there was any. If the violent were unstable were their other causes like being a immigrant on the fringes of society.

        Also militaries the world over have always been adapt at taking young man in search of a mission and connection and turning them into killers. Our military does it and good for them, that is there job. But for centuries turning otherwise decent or even mediocre young men into people who will kill without mercy or die on command has been something that seems pretty easy to do.

        It is very easy to believe people who do abhorrent things must be mentally ill. But that has significant problems since it defines people solely in their relation to others not to how they see themselves or are able to function. Some pretty weird people feel fine and function in their own way just fine. How to understand what mental illness is, is a big topic that psych types and the mentally ill have been pondering for a long time and will continue to do so.Report

        • Kim in reply to gregiank says:

          we damn well know what people look like before they turn into radicals. It’s… not mentally ill. It is a distinct personality type.
          And yes, the Pentagon does have enough of a sample size to look into it, we certainly have enough crazy right wing religion in this country, let alone other places.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      Well, we didn’t discuss the mental health issues of the one guy who shot that other guy. The abortion guy.

      We jumped straight to “members of this group need to denounce this group member’s action!”Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Did we jump straight to mental health this time?Report

        • zic in reply to Chris says:

          Morning after, fox news had a story about racism; headline about racism, with a video of one of their panel discussions at the top, and that was all mental health, and would it be possible for Roof to escape the death penalty because of mental health.

          I linked to it, I think on Tod’s post on reactions from the right.

          It keeps coming up, too — conservative friends in my facebook feed keep posting about drug use and mental health as the roots of the problem. In other words, standard conservative policies are not racist (even if they create institutional racism,) and guns are not the problem, the problems with Roof were mental health and/or drugs.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to zic says:


            I’m not sure why this has to keep being a Left/Right conversation…?Report

            • zic in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

              Because it is a left/right conversation.

              The title of this post is “Open Post on Mental Health.” So let me ask this: how many congregants of that church would benefit from mental health care, how many have PTSD developing, and won’t be able to access that health care due to lack of health insurance? If that number is greater than one; it’s a left/right issue. Did Roof have insurance that included mental health care? I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to know it. Your other post on gun control brings up a host of left/right issues.

              The problem of a mass murderer isn’t left or right; it’s human.

              But the ways we might minimize mass murder — to policies that might have prevented this? They’re definitely left/right, and they have been since the Civil Rights Movement began.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to zic says:


                “But the ways we might minimize mass murder — to policies that might have prevented this? They’re definitely left/right, and they have been since the Civil Rights Movement began.”

                So people started wondering about proactive policies to limit mass murder at the start of the Civil Rights movement? You’ll have to educate me on that one.Report

              • zic in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                the policies of racism, Mike. The policies that brought that damned flag out of mothballs. How to deal with our national sin.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to zic says:

                Yeah…still not making the connection.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

          Did we jump straight to mental health this time?

          Touche’. I know that my thoughts are wonderfully summed up in your “We have no reason to believe this man was mentally ill other than that we cannot conceive of how a person could do such an absolutely horrible thing.”

          We didn’t leap there, but it’s… golly, less than a week later? And we’re discussing mental illness and how/why this guy got turned when, seriously, there are thousands of guys just like that guy out there.

          Which one of them will say “you know what? Eff it.” next? Is it worth worrying about?

          If he’s crazy, we can take solace in his insanity.
          If he was just evil? Man. How do you fight evil?Report

          • Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

            Jaybird: If he was just evil? Man. How do you fight evil?

            You read comic books. You should be able to answer that. 😉Report

          • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

            We’re discussing mental illness? One person decided we should, after no one really brought it up in his other thread, and now folks here are basically saying, “why would we discuss mental illness right now?”

            There’s not much for us here to discuss, really. There are better places for conversations about race and racism, and discussions of gun violence and possible solutions will get bogged down in defensiveness. So we’re left flailing in the face of something so horrific that we want to talk about it, to understand it, I suppose. At least “let’s not talk about mental illness yet” is something to say.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

            One way you fight evil is by stigmatizing it, making it clear that we all agree it’s evil. Sure, there are some people who delight in being evil, but very few. (You might even say that that delight is one symptom of mental illness.) So if it’s clear that thinking like Roof did isn’t a sign of being tough-minded, or realistic, or facing the facts, but is an evil we’re all trying to work our way up from, there will be fewer people like him.

            One way towards that is to stop privileging the symbols of evil beliefs.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


        As usual, I don’t know who or what you are talking about. Please use specifics. Thank you.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

          I believe JB’s talking about George Tiller. After his murder, the subject of mental health did come up, quite directly, via statements like “You people who kept calling him a murderer and talking about how many lives would be saved if he died, how could you not know that someone would be unbalanced enough to do what you were suggesting?” In general, their response was “Evil as he was, I wasn’t calling for his murder and I won’t rejoice in his death.

          So the question JB is asking is why we don’t give advocates of race war the same presumption of simply using overheated rhetoric, rather than assuming that they mean it and are glad someone stepped up and did what they wanted.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            The whole “he was only taking his beliefs to their logical conclusion” argument is one that is not toothless (if somewhat unfairly framed given the possibility of similar beliefs leading to many different conclusions).

            I’m pretty sure that Roeder did end up being diagnosed as suffering from mental illness which is, I suppose, somewhat of a comfort. Better than him being sane and taking his beliefs to their logical conclusion.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

              Consider the belief than another race is inferior, unfairly privileged, and already warring against you. What is the logical conclusion?

              I think we all know the answer, I expect I know it deeper than most people, and so does Saul, and so does Lee, because we live with that knowledge every goddamned day of our lives.Report

              • Patrick in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Killing nine people and going to jail for it is not high on the list of logical conclusions

                Maybe that is just me.

                I will defer to Chris when it comes to the likelihood that the dude is sick in the head, clinically.

                But it seems pretty clear to me that he isn’t all right in the head, either.Report

              • Chris in reply to Patrick says:

                Don’t defer to me. I’m have no clinical training and even if I did, I find armchair diagnoses unethical.

                It is difficult for us to imagine how a sane person could do something so horrible, but this is a failure of imagination, nothing more. What’s more, it is a dangerous failure: born of the fundamental attribution error, it says the impetus for the action must be some internal pathology, and limits our attention to context, which includes American culture, and therefore us.

                I don’t think we have any problem attributing, say, ISIS’s unthinkably evil behavior to both internal (e.g., belief, faith) and external (e.g., the sorts of group think and division of responsibility that we’ve known about since the Nazis). Even though this man was not a member of a group, it appears, he seems to have felt like one from his internet experiences, and it seems reasonable, likely even, that his act was more like that of an ISIS member in a Syrian village than a deeply mentally ill school shooter, say.

                He may turn it to be sick, but right now that inference is more of a leap of faith than an empirically supported inference.Report

              • Patrick in reply to Chris says:

                Dammit, now I want to write a post about this because it’s important, and I have literally zero minutes to write between now and Sunday.


              • Chris in reply to Patrick says:

                It’ll still be important on Sunday. I look forward to it.Report

  2. Christopher Carr says:

    “I do not claim to be an expert on mental health.”

    I would argue that no one is an expert on mental health. There are only actions.Report

  3. Mike Dwyer says:

    I just want to note that he doesnt have to be ill to have still gone through the process of radicalization, which has a psychological component.Report

    • gregiank in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      As i noted above Mike, basic military training will produce killers. That is radical and being in the military does not mean someone is mentally ill.Report

    • Lurker in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I remember a stupid debate about whether Hitler had to be mentally ill or not. Osama, too.

      Who cares? The debate is really a semantic one about how to define “mentally ill.”

      Regardless, people like Hitler, Osama, Stalin, and the like were motivated by race hate and were mentally aware enough to be fully culpable -if anyone is to be culpable for anything- for their evil acts. So too this horrible kid, filled with race hate, and culpable for his acts.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Lurker says:

        Oddly enough, I’m not entirely sure Hitler *was* motivated by racial hatred. I don’t think we have enough evidence to say whether or not he actually believed what he said, or used it to create an enemy as an excuse for power.

        Is it worse to do horrifically evil acts because you’re ignorant and racist, or to do horrifically evil acts with the cold-blooded knowledge everything you’re saying is a lie? The latter, obviously.

        Of course, as I’ve pointed out, what people *pretend* to believe and what people *actually* believe are not as distinct as people like to imagine they are. If you incorporate ‘things you know are lies’ into decision-making, and at some point those things start bleeding over into other decisions.

        Likewise, to read any theory, you have to, at some level, pretend in your head you believe it. You have to model it as if it’s real.

        And you keep reading that stuff, you’ll keep pretending, and eventually you’ll start making decisions like you do, and your mind will start justifying those decisions, and you start spiraling.Report

        • Guy in reply to DavidTC says:

          The debate between “ship them all to Madagascar” and “murder them all” strikes me as an indicator of racial animus, as is the effort at secrecy. At the point where you are ordering the deaths of people by class (racial or otherwise), you have it out for those classes.Report

    • Joanne Eddy. in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      While I have not deeply studied radicalization, I have been licensed in mental health. I think I would be on safe ground to believe that it is likely there are many psychological factors in radicalization. One that I have not seen mentioned in all these posts is alienation, which relates to the psyche and often social factors but not to a mental health diagnosis. Roof seemed to show some evidence of alienation. Leaving one victim alive additionally seemed intent on giving evidence on the racist reasons for his act.

      One question I have is how you link Roof and radicalization? Where is your evidence of that? How are you defining radicalization?

      Roof clearly linked on the Internet to a a racist organization (CCC). He sported patches that he bought for racist purposes and posted racist views on his website. He certainly acted on his racist views with violence, but so have other racists in our history. But I don’t think we have evidence of how he moved from racism to mass murder via either mental health issues or radicalization. NOTE: depression is often linked to suicide (direction of anger/violence is inward). Homicidal ideation (directing anger/violence outward) is more typically linked to diagnoses of Delirium (drug induced state), Schizophrenia or PsychosisReport

  4. Doctor Jay says:

    Osama bin Laden was famous for his ability to pick, umm, “martyrs” who would carry out suicide missions. He did this, I would imagine, by giving them some meaning and some attention. By telling them that they were important, and that they would do something important and that they would be remembered.

    It isn’t clear to me that something so specific and explicit went on here. It certainly seems to be the case that Roof found someone who paid some attention to him, and, through a horrifying Skinnerian process, learned to parrot their rhetoric. And he conceived a plan that was so dramatic and intense it was sure to get people to pay attention to him.

    There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of young men who feel alienated, isolated, and marginalized, who don’t go out and murder 7 black people at a prayer meeting. Caring about Dylann Roof in particular isn’t important. Really, fuck him. He will pay for what he did. But caring about all those other young men – well, maybe that’s something worth looking at, for it’s own sake. It isn’t just young white men, either. Young black men are often alienated and isolated, but they don’t seem to engage in spree killings – that may just be statistics talking, I don’t really know. But too often it seems like an either-or. Either you care about black lives, or you care about alienated young white men.

    The reason we fight over this is scarcity of resource. Not all problems can be addressed, we are told, and so we help the people who are part of our tribe. This trick has been used since 1650 or so to divide blacks from poor, low-status whites. Property confiscated from black runaways was given to poor whites.

    What would happen if we healed that divide? What would it take to heal it?Report

  5. DensityDuck says:

    I dunno I can see how some people might prefer that he were stone cold sane. Wouldn’t that give us a reason to go after anyone who expresses, shall we say, certain philosophies as being potential mass murderers?Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to DensityDuck says:


      I think sane is good because it should be (in theory) easier to create policies around. If someone is just loony, well, kind of hard to predict their future behaviors.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        But that’s it, though; if Root is sane, and sane people are predictable, then ipso facto anyone who acts like Root does should be locked up, because they will at some point go berserk and start shooting black people.Report

  6. Alan Scott says:

    Mike Dwyer:
    [F]eelings of isolation, especially for immigrants in European nations where Muslims are more segregated, can play a factor in that sort of terrorism. And much of what we see in the US is indeed from ‘loners’ who we later find out don’t have much of a social life which leads to depression, etc.

    I suspect this is a pretty major misunderstanding of how depression (in the “mental health” sense and not just the “feeling sad” sense) works. In my own experience as someone diagnosed with clinical depression and having very close acquaintances with depression, depression causes loneliness and not the other way around. Depression causes sufferers to forsake social activities by which one makes and keeps friends, and this causes loneliness. So external isolating factors, such as the segregation in Europe, probably don’t cause depression.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Alan Scott says:


      I’m not at all trying to minimize your experience with depression but can’t someone go through a depression caused by something else? I suffered a big career setback a few years ago and I was clearly depressed for about 6 months. All the classic symptoms. Then my job got better and it started to go away. Same for people that maybe go through a tough breakup. Or is this not technically ‘depression’? I really don’t know.Report

      • greginak in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        @mike-dwyer There is a difference between “normal” depression that is part of life and diagnosis of Clinical Depression. Life is a hard and we all have hard times. That is different from a mental illness which goes beyond life’s travails and is also more severe in its symptoms. Lord knows the mental health profession has muddied those waters a bit and there are some practitioners who can’t tell the difference. But Clinical Depression is supposed to be something with more symptoms and is deeper and longer than down periods of life. It also usually shouldn’t be tied just to one hard incident which is often not considered a mental illness or would be diagnosed differently.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        When mental health professionals talk about depression, they’re talking about Major Depressive Disorder (also know as Clinical Depression or Unipolar Disorder) and a family of related disorders Including SAD and Dysthemia. These disorders typically respond to medication and/or therapy, and are considered distinct from short-term depressive symptoms with obvious external causes. That said, six months is long enough that your experiences could be related to psychological depression.

        Some questions that might clarify are: Did you experience any of the physical symptoms of depression, such as sleep irregularity and chronic aching? Can you clearly articulate the changes in your job and do they seem proportionate to your change in attitude? Or could it be the case that a depressive episode caused you to focus unduly on the negative aspects of your job? Or might a depressive episode have affected your work performance in ways that led to the professional setback?

        Depressive episodes are recurrent, so I advise that you speak to a mental health professional if you find yourself falling into a depression again.Report

  7. Guy says:


    and sane people are predictable


    e: Huh. Figured that would get threaded.Report