Aberrant Predisposition Not Political Rhetoric to Blame for Tucson Tragedy

January 14, 2011

The recent murders in Arizona are horrific. That a 9-year-old girl was one of the victims magnifies the horror even more. Of course, it is natural to seek explanations for why someone would lash out like this. However, when rationalizing random acts of violence, it is important to consider the path leading up to the tragic event and be wary of current opinions propagated in the media.


The recent murders in Arizona are horrific. That a 9-year-old girl was one of the victims magnifies the horror even more. I sadly listened to the news describe the girl as a young lady interested in politics, the only girl on her Little League team, and a newly elected member of student council. This little girl is survived by her 11-year-old brother. The 2 siblings are about the same age as my children. I have painstakingly imagined my daughter’s reaction if she had lost her younger brother in this same way. Of course, it is natural to seek explanations for why someone would lash out like this. However, when rationalizing random acts of violence, it is important to consider the path leading up to the tragic event and be wary of current opinions propagated in the media.

Society tries desperately to determine why violence like this occurs. On television news outlets, I have heard the term “political rhetoric” mentioned a dozen or so times in association with the shooting as a contributing factor to this incident. I have also heard several news commentators ask the question, “Should guns be allowed at a political rally?” Research has been done on the effects of media violence and video games. Substance abuse and a history of childhood bullying or domestic violence are often listed as contributing factors to murderous outbursts. Although all of these factors could possibly contribute to violence, the fact is that the perpetrator reached a point in his mind that it was okay to do what he did. Our efforts have to be put toward understanding how a person reaches the point at which violence becomes okay. Is it mental illness or moral depravity-both?

Dealing with mental illness is very difficult. Finding the ideal clinician for a child with mental health needs is an arduous task that I often face in my practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Mental Health reports that about 20% of children and adolescents in the United States meet diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder and only about one-fifth of those affected receive care for the disorder.1 We are in such great need of more mental health services in the field of pediatrics and in the general population.2 While the debate continues about whether politicians should use gun references in their speeches or use words like “reload,” we must keep in mind that all the political rhetoric in the world should not act as the trigger that pushes the stable individual over the edge. A person has to have some aberrant predisposition to commit a horrific act. Let’s talk more about managing this aberrant predisposition and less about controlling the speech of boisterous political figures.
 

References:

REFERENCES:


1.

Foy JM and the AAP Task Force on Mental Health. Enhancing pediatric mental health care. Report from the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Mental Health. Introduction. Introduction.

Pediatrics.

2010;126:S69-S74.

2.

Thomas KC, Ellis AR, Kongrad TR, et al. County level estimates of mental health professional shortage in the United States.

Psychiatr Serv.

2009;60:1323-1328.