Recent news is that Aaron Alexis was delusional– i.e., paranoid, as discussed in a previous post. The sad thing is, he apparently never got any help. But the other sad thing is, there were apparently several incidents– a whole pattern of incidents– leading up to the fatal day in the Navy Yard.
One of the things that stops a lot of people from getting mental health help is that they don’t want to be thought of as “crazy.” This was also recently discussed on a KQED Forum program about police suicide. http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201309250900 It’s part of the culture to not want to be thought of as “crazy,” so some depressed cop who’s given maybe 15-20 years of his life to keeping the public safe ends up blowing his brains out. You’d have to be a really cynical anarchist to think of this as anything but a tragedy.
I was fortunate enough to be able to call in and make a comment, and I related a story of someone I’d known who shot himself in the head– before I ever met him. There was a person who was bigtime suicidal– about as suicidal as you can get, given the lethality of what he did– and when he miraculously survived without crippling brain damage, he ultimately recovered from his depression. He wasn’t even suicidal when I met him. He had other problems, sure, but we all have problems.
My point is that most people think of “crazy” as meaning the person is prone to erratic, socially out-of-bounds, desperate behavior. Here’s an example from the world of film– in the movie Blade Runner there’s an issue with replicants– artificial humans– having been created as functioning adults, but with no past. Some deep-seated need to have a past is driving them crazy. One of the replicants, in a fit of fury, asks, “Do you know what it’s like to have an itch you can never scratch?” Some apparently collect memorabilia from childhoods that never took place. There’s nothing that can be done (in the world of the film) for the problem, so the replicants go off the deep end. There’s a whole meditation on humanity and equality here– the replicants are, after all, nothing more or less than bioengineered human slaves. But that’s for another time and place.
The thing is, if you get help, there’s some hope of being able to ameliorate the symptoms of your illness– whether it’s depression or delusions. Then you won’t be driven to desperation by your problems. There’s a functional difference between having a mental illness and that kind of “crazy” that people fear, either in themselves or in others. What’s sad is that the fear of being thought crazy is the thing that can make so many people go crazy. This is all about the stigma of mental illness. If there was no stigma, people would go for help as soon as the symptoms become bothersome. So the first line of defense is to make sure you keep an eye on your friends, and they keep an eye on you– and be willing to be honest. It’s better to have a mental illness than to go crazy.