Category Archives: mental illness

News media: Let’s impose a blackout on mass shoooters

By Christopher B. Daly 

The headlines are both horrifying and all too familiar: another town in America is the location for another mass shooting. My hunch is that to some degree, each new one is partly a product of all the preceding ones. The idea for it, the methods, the script — it’s all there in the coverage of almost every mass shooting.

Thanks to the folks at Vox for compiling this dreadful map, showing all the mass shootings since Sandy Hook (that’s 74, in about 18 months, or about one a week).

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So, here’s an idea that goes against my grain and against the instincts of most of my colleagues in the news business: Let’s stop covering mass shootings.

Or, at least, let’s stop covering them in a way that glorifies the killer or provides a scenario for any copycat to follow.

Let me state: I believe the main reason for this horror is the specific combination of a scarcity of mental health care and an abundance of high-capacity firearms. Those two forces strike me as the overwhelmingly clear reason for our national plague of mass shootings. But there’s not much that anyone I know can do about either problem.

So, to the extent that coverage of massacres begets more massacres, let’s change the coverage. How?

For one thing, we should consider a moratorium on even naming the shooter. And no photos. And no follow-up profiles of a troubled young man who seemed a little weird to some people (but not that weird) and  not at all weird to other people and then, suddenly — blam! he became deeply psychotic and started firing.

I know something about those kind of stories, having written one for the Washington Post back in 1994 when a schizophrenic young man named John Salvi opened fire at two abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., killing two people he had never met and wounding five others. Following journalistic protocol, I dropped everything and covered the shooting, then turned my efforts to the inevitable “profile of a killer.” Salvi’s story was one that is now all-too-familiar: young man grows increasingly aloof and unreasoning, no one does anything about it, and then he becomes almost totally isolated and captivated by voices or disordered thinking. Next he’s in a public place with an assault weapon.

In a sense, these shootings — tragically, awfully — do not meet a strict definition of news, because they have ceased to be rare. I would suggest that the news media refrain from covering these men and telling their individual stories so long as the shooter is:

–male

–white

–between 15 and 30

–at least a little “off” by someone’s criteria

–armed to the teeth in a way that would be impossible in almost any other country on Earth.

One Canadian news network did just that this week, following a rare multiple murder in Canada. Let’s impose a moratorium on this kind of story, at least until they become rare again.

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Filed under Journalism, mental illness, publishing, schizophrenia

The “psycho killer” problem

By Chris Daly

Today’s NYTimes has a piece that tries to address an issue that I believe was raised by the Tucson shootings: What are people supposed to do when they think a young man is losing his grip on reality and appears headed toward some violent act.? Turns out, there is not a really good answer — at least in most states, most of the time, with most cases.

This is an issue that I raised last week, shortly after the shootings in an op-ed I wrote in the Boston Globe.

Regrettably, though, the Globe editing process knocked out a key point I was trying to make. Midway through the op-ed, I wrote:

For one thing, the age at which both men are thought to have committed violent acts — their early 20s — is around the time when men tend to experience the onset of schizophrenia, a major mental illness that affects less than 1 percent of the population, most of whom will never commit an act of violence.

The regrettable part is that an editor at the Globe cut the final phrase — “. . . most of whom will never commit an act of violence.” — leaving the impression that some, most, or all schizophrenics are dangerous, which is not true and not my point. The editor who accepted the piece and saw it through most of the editing process agreed that it was an editorial mistake to have cut that phrase.

The major point: A lot more people need to learn a lot more about effective interventions for people suffering major mental illnesses.

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Filed under mental illness, New York Times, schizophrenia, Tucson, Tucson shooting