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In less than two weeks after Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of Parkland, Florida, became the latest US academic institution to be victim to a mass shooting, CNN held a town hall. More than 7,000 people attended the nationally broadcast meeting between Florida politicians like Marco Rubio, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, in addition to the parents and students of MSD. The history making broadcast highlighted the discrepancies between personal experience, trauma, and government action. Parents were enraged. Students were tearful. A debate raged on. Are mass shootings a gun issue or a mental health issue? Politicians and students alike seemed to eventually agree, it is neither one nor the other as both need to be taken into consideration.

MSD shooter Nikolas Cruz was only 19 years old, had a documented history of trouble with school as well as with the law, publicly posted violent images on social media, and much more, including two separate tip offs to the FBI. By all standards of regulation, Nikolas Cruz should not have been allowed to purchase and collect his armory of gun power, including the AR-15 he used at the campus. The Miami Herald released a thorough investigation of psychiatric and therapy records obtained which details the two years of Cruz’s life before the shooting. Though no diagnosis has been released more details on his mental health were revealed, including extreme mood swings, paranoia, and a fixation on violence. Nikolas had a list of traumas and symptoms of trauma which had no resolution including the death of both his parents. We cannot speculate on what happened to Cruz between 2015 and 2018, though that time frame includes the loss of his mother. We cannot offer an official diagnosis. We can know that a struggle with mental health was clearly present.

What does it mean, then, when the mainstream media or figureheads like Dana Loesch call young men like Nikolas Cruz “crazy”?

“I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever.” Loesch said at one point during the CNN town hall. Just seconds later she said “This individual was nuts”. A few moments after that, she mentioned that states are not federally required “…to actually report people who are prohibited possessors, crazy people, people who are murderers…” Her comments were immediately met with jeers from the crowd as people shouted “Don’t call him crazy!” and other similar sentiments.

The words “crazy” and “insane” and “monster” are all too commonly used when describing the mentally ill. defines insanity as “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.” Cruz’s therapy records, as documented by The Miami Herald show that though he suffered violent fantasies, he was connected to reality. He was able to, for some time, rehabilitate his behavior, control his anger, and stabilize his mood swings as well as his impulsive outbursts. Moments of insanity are possible. Intentionally deciding to cause as much pain and destruction as possible might be a moment of insanity. However, using these harmful words which are loaded with shame, stigma, and stereotype as part of a greater conversation about mental health and trauma is extremely damaging. People who struggle with their mental health are not monsters, nor are they necessarily crazy.

Relying on juvenile tactics like villainization is one of the ways that people cope with the traumatizing and shocking news coverage of mass shootings. Seeking to incriminate and blame troubled individuals is easier than seeking to thoroughly assess, understand, and perhaps even empathize with a broken and disturbed human being. Whether we will find out the depth of Cruz’s struggles or not is unimportant. What matters most is for us to stand up always as advocates for those with mental illness in order to remove these labels of judgment and misunderstanding. By doing so, we can change the mainstream narrative about trauma and mental health while fostering a greater sense of empathy and compassion for others.

Call The Guest House Ocala today for information on our residential treatment programs for traumas, addictions, and related mental health issues: 1-855-483-7800