Posts Tagged mental illness

The Violence of Assumed Violence: A Reflection on Reports of Adam Lanza’s Possible Autism

This blog post by Jennifer Sarrett was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.

Jennifer C. Sarrett started working with people on the autism spectrum in 1999 in Athens, GA while getting her B.S. in Psychology. In 2005, she completed her M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education with a focus on autism from Vanderbilt University. She is currently a fifth year doctoral student in Emory University’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts working on her dissertation which compares parental and professional experiences of autism in Atlanta, GA and Kerala, India as well as the ethical issues the arise when engaging in international, autism-related work.

On Friday, December 14th 2012, the country learned of the mass shooting of 5- and 6-year-old children and several adults in Newtown, CT. By the end of the day, we learned that Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the heinous act, may be autistic. Although we now know that this is not the case, it has spurred conversations about the link between autism and violence. This mental illness guessing-game has become the norm in the wake of such tragedies. Jared Loughner and James Holmes may have been schizophrenic; Sueng-Hi Cho may have been depressed, anxious, and also possibly autistic; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may have been depressed and/or psychopathic. These speculations are understandable – the public yearns to understand the motives behind such acts and recognizes that good mental health and mass shootings are never coupled–however, the way these representations are presented to the community create stigma and blames others with similar disabilities.

Adam Lanza

In Media Madness:Public Images of Mental Illness, psychologist Otto Walh explains that the public does not get its information about mental illness from evidenced-based, professional sources, rather, “[i]t is far more likely that the public’s knowledge of mental illness comes from sources closer to home, sources to which we are all exposed on a daily basis–namely, the mass media.” [1] The media (i.e. news, television, movies, video games, popular literature) often provides these links casually but carefully. Reports may mention Adam Lanza had autism, but don’t make the causal link between this diagnosis and his crimes. Yet in the minds of readers, the association is made. Read the rest of this entry »

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