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Michele HappeMichele Happe Blog
A place for discussion of addictions, codependency and eating disorders

Mental Health Issues and the Tragic Arizona Shooting

Michele Happe, MA, LADC Updated: Jan 11th 2011

Hatred never ceases by hatred but by love alone is it healed…The Buddha

Since the terrifying and tragic events of last Friday when a group of people were shot in Arizona, I have been doing much reflecting on this and attempting to put it into its proper perspective without resorting to hatred myself.

police line tapeAs it turns out, this young man has been reported to have mental illness, possibly schizophrenia. He may have had a mentor who encouraged him, but that will be discovered later.

First, I believe that it is important to look at the state of our health care in this country. Especially regarding emotional and mental illness, there are so many people who are unable to seek treatment because they may be unable to navigate the system in order to receive social services or they just don't have enough money to pay for treatment if they fall into middle class incomes because insurance rarely covers mental issues effectively. It must be remembered also that in the 1970's the doors to the mental hospitals were closed to the indigent and those people flooded the streets with nowhere to live and no place to receive help. This attitude and policy continues today. This is why I am a proponent of a public form of health care that cares for the least among us.

Secondly, there must be some kind of consequences for those who propagate hate in the media. The corporate owners have discovered that hate talk makes money so they promote it because it sells. It sells because it taps into the poison that all of us possess. That poison is fear. Since the events of September 11th, when we realized that we can be attacked from without, people have had great difficulty knowing what to do with the fear that they felt. The first unenlightened response is to retaliate and fight back. When people feel powerless to fight back a remote and stealthy aggressor, they turn to what we call displaced aggression. They begin to express their fear through hatred of those around them. Usually they pick on those weaker or different from them. Thus racism and lack of empathy for those who are already suffering increases. Unfortunately, this dynamic is being propagated by politicians and the media….because it makes money.

We are all accountable for these heinous acts because we are all capable of digressing into this kind of fear based behavior. It is important when we experience such a sorrowful event to look inside of ourselves and see where we are driven by fear and hatred and to transform that fear and hatred into compassion. When this is done anger turns into sorrow and remorse. Others pain is our own pain. We are then able to return to love in order to cease hatred and develop compassion toward all human…even the hate talkers.

Be well......


Michele Happe, MA, LADCI am a licensed addictions therapist that specializes in addiction and codependency. I use Buddhist principles to aid in recovery and to help promote happiness. I also write and teach about these issues. I have a private practice in Minden, NV and Reno, NV and work nationally on the phone(775)230-1507 and through skype (mhappenow). My webpage is Join me on Facebook for lots of mini teachings.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Mental health services - Susan rynas - Jan 20th 2011

Instead of trying to blame talk radio, we should be examining the state of mental health services.  What rights do parents of a mentally ill have?  It seems to me the teacher at Pima College did what he could.  He had a social worker talk to the young man, and the young man he was advised to get "help".  The college told him he had to leave.  Could the parents make him get help?  I don't know what they could have done.

I agree - Michele Happe MA LADC - Jan 12th 2011

thank you Max....

Mental Health and Media Bias - Max Gordon - Jan 11th 2011

A facebook friend who also lives with chronic depression asked how people felt about the media's indiscriminate use of the words crazy and psychotic to describe alleged Arizona assassin. This is my response:

Crazy does not bother me, as it could be an umbrella term for anything not typical, and I don't consider it diagnostic, just descriptive. Psychotic, on the other hand, IS a diagnostic term, and so it should not be tossed around by people wh...o don't know what they are saying.

However, 61% of Americans BELIEVE that most violent criminals suffer from mental illness (National Mental Health Association, 2003), thanks to media reports like this one, as well as movies, books, etc. This belief is not actually borne out by research and is probably just people's way of comforting themselves in the face of something terrifying. Some facts:

  • “Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses” (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
  • “Clearly, mental health status makes at best a trivial contribution to the overall level of violence in society” (Monahan, John, 1992).
  • “. . . [T]he absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and . . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill” (Mulvey, 1994).
  • “Most people who suffer from a mental disorder are not violent — there is no need to fear them. Embrace them for who they are — normal human beings experiencing a difficult time, who need your open mind, caring attitude, and helpful support” (Grohol, 1998).
  • “Compared with the risk associated with the combination of male gender, young age, and lower socioeconomic status, the risk of violence presented by mental disorder is modest” (Policy Research Associates, December 1994.

In fact, people with psychiatric disabilities are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby et al., 2001):

“A new study by researchers at North Carolina State University and Duke University has found that people with severe mental illness—schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis—are 2 1⁄2 times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population.” Claudine Chamberlain, “Victims, Not Violent: Mentally Ill Attacked at a Higher Rate,” ABC New.


Hiday, V.A., Swanson, J.W., Swartz, Borum, R., & Wagner, H.R. (2001). Victimization: A link between mental illness and violence? International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 24: 559–572.

Hiday, V.A., M.S. Swartz, J.W. Swanson, R. Borum and H.R. Wagner (1998). Male and female differences in the setting and consruction of violence among people with severe mental illness. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 33: 68–74.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2008). Violence and mental illness: The facts. Downloaded January 10, 2011, from

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