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The Blood in the Mind

The news is harder than ever to hear today.
32 dead, gunned down inside a classroom inside a building whose doors the gunman had chained shut. But these were not the first to die this morning on the Virginia Tech campus. The first were a man and a woman inside a dorm. At this moment, the (understandably) cryptic remarks from the Virginia Tech Campus Police Chief lead us to believe that the evidence indicates that there were two, not one, gunmen; and, that the two shootings were unrelated. Although we have yet to know the verified particulars on the classroom gunman, first impressions by witnesses indicate someone under age 21.

Already the media is tackling the gun control issue, as well they should. But there is another issue, one that does not get discussed nearly enough.

The issue is this: We do not pay enough attention to mental illness. We act as though it is abstract and fuzzy--until someone who is mentally ill harms or kills someone else. We write off abusive behavior, excuse verbal attacks, roll our eyes at people who appear unable to control their actions, when what we need to do is take notice. If your friend or loved one has a tumor, you'll see to it that they get to the doctor, no? It should be no different in the case of mental illness. We must make mental health treatment acceptable and accessible, and see it as a constant in the range of options we have for overall health care. We've made progress in this area, but not nearly enough.

When did this young gunman's mind make the decision to carry out a massacre? And why? What was his childhood like? What would a blood analysis on his glandular system show? Would a PET scan show a brain abnormality? Had he ever been examined for a personality disorder? Did he show the "seven symptoms of schizophrenia?" He had to have displayed one or more signs of mental illness at some time, and well before the murdering madness of today. Who saw the signs? Did they know they were signs? Or did they just write him off as "troubled", not realizing how easily and silently trouble can become danger?

We need as much funding in mental health research and treatment as we do in cancer and heart disease research and treatment. So, yes, keep talking about gun control. (Please keep talking about gun control.) But open a second discussion, the necessary one of asking when, in this oh-so-modern age, are we going to treat mental illness as a serious disease? How many more people will die before we do?

For information on the state of mental health treatment, see

Text and image copyright 2007, Ysabel de la Rosa


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