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It is irritating that whenever there is an attack on a public figure or a violent public security incident — a man injuring the Italian prime minister, a woman rushing the pope, a school gunman on a killing spree, a foiled airplane bomber, an armed hostage taker, a suicide bomber, an intruder in the White House — news reports too quickly describe the suspects as people with “a history of mental illness,” or otherwise “mentally disturbed.” It might be true, but automatic use of the sanity card is suspiciously easy.

First, journalists, police, airport security people and government spokesmen are not qualified judges of or commentators on mental health.

Second, the “qualified” psychiatric and psychology professionals are mostly foolish quacks in my biased opinion.

Third, even if the perpetrators of such incidents are indeed mentally ill, does it necessarily follow that their behavior is the product of derangement? Although the aim of the mentally unstable epithet is to disqualify motives and excuse behavior on the presumption that actions of the mentally ill are compromised by their condition, I often feel that their motives deserve better regard than they receive with the dismissive accusation that they are “mentally disturbed.”

Fourth, mental health is a wedge that divorces us from moral responsibility for ourselves and relieves us of the burden to think more critically about some issues. There is conflict among authorities who wield the label for competing purposes, and calling people mentally disturbed just makes it easier for the rest of us to avoid thinking about certain things.

If a murderer was mentally incompetent when he killed, that does not make him innocent of the crime because of diminished responsibility. It only means he is not culpable for it. We take it for granted that if a person says he hears voices then he must have a mental pathology. But what if he really does hear voices?

grant piper