We Need A New Mental Health Diagnosis For The Mass Killings


Our society needs a new term for the violence we are experiencing. 

All of us need it. More specifically, we need a new mental health diagnosis for the mass violence that has been erupting all over our country and all over the world.

 Most of the current mental health diagnoses have been around for decades, centuries, even millennium. They may have had different names; some even have names that we no longer recognize and can’t even trace back. A few recent examples? Bi-polar used to be known as manic/depressive disorder. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) used be confused with schizophrenia and was named  BPD because the symptoms were said to put the person on the edge of psychosis. Anankastic personality disorder describes a mental illness that is a lot like the clinical term for what a lot of us know as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)- an extreme need to control the uncontrollable.

Mental illness was recognized even back in the stone ages, a treatment tried was termed Trephination, “The drilling of a hole in the skull, presumably as a way of treating psychological disorders is an example of the earliest supernatural explanation for mental illness.”  There is evidence found in prehistoric skulls and in cave paintings that this was a curative treatment that was tried for those in that age that exhibited symptoms that were outside of the norm.

Throughout the ages, we’ve sought to make sense out of mental illness and we keep adding definitions and making corrections when we discover errors in our understanding. In China, the struggle to balance the negative and positive and physical and emotional was and continues to be referred to as yin and yang. In other areas of the world and in other centuries, the word hysteria was coined and came from the idea that a woman’s uterus could “wander” about the body, termed that by the Greeks but described even earlier by the Egyptians . (Pre menstrual syndrome, anyone? Someone trying to make sense out of the crazy that PMS can seem like? Not something that we currently define as a mental illness!)

Since the age of conscious personhood, we’ve also incorrectly attached the label of mental illness to symptoms that were identified as abnormal but were due to physical illnesses and diseases that then affected the brain. Prime examples? Sexually transmitted diseases. And that is a whole other conversation.  

Still, the killings that have been taking place? They don’t fit into any of the diagnoses that we all ready have or even the ones that are ancient history. Or even the ones that have whispered around the edges of society forever and ever, echoing prejudice.

This is new violence. New awful. New and different mentally ill than what we have diagnoses for right now.

And I am sick and tired of the ordinary, mainly harmless, mentally ill being blamed for the killings that are going on.

Sick and tired of it.

It’s not that I have an argument with the fact that the people doing these killings are mentally ill. Some people say evil,  not mentally ill, I’m not sure I believe in evil myself. How can we decide if it’s evil when we can’t even agree on what evil is? Do we have a definition that we agree on that describes evil?  Not a chance.  We, as a society, in the US, do not agree about evil. Within any individual family, there is rarely agreement. Truth? As we evolve, as individuals, each of us often notices that our feelings about evil can change. No agreement about evil, we can all agree to that.

Are these killings and violence distorted behavior due to hatred, due to oppression, due to anger, rage and ignorance? Are any of those “feelings” mental illnesses when carried to the extreme? There is plenty of proof of mental illness driving these killings- an abnormal response to all of those feelings  . Despair, yes. Depression type sadness and anger, yes. Instability, yes, absolutely yes. Disregulation, yes. Emotional eruptions, like rage, yes.

In the US, at this time, the most common way to diagnose a mental illness is with the use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Revision (DSM-5). “According to DSM-5, a personality disorder can be diagnosed if there are significant impairments in self and interpersonal functioning together with one or more pathological personality traits. In addition, these features must be (1) relatively stable across time and consistent across situations, (2) not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment and (3) not solely due to the direct effects of a substance or general medical condition.”

The diagnoses  that we have right now, they don’t fit this mass violence. I read them, there are ten of them. They don’t fit the violence that is literally exploding all over the world.

We need a new diagnosis.

Because the mentally ill people in this country who are all ready struggling with diseases that are often ill defined  and poorly handled don’t deserve to have this new burden to further stigmatize their struggle. They have enough to do to get through their days and their lives without a lot of the help that they would receive with other, less intimidating and more understood diseases. The mentally ill in this country have more than enough to do, dealing with a disease that is medically underinsured and undercovered and where there is little understanding about the intricacies involved that a mental disease diagnosis creates, much less gets the services that are desperately needed.

Figuring out how to exist and be in this world, is enough, much more than enough for our mentally ill. Medication. No medication. Which medication? When? How much? For which symptom? How many side effects are enough to relegate that medication to a shelf and to start again? Which medications counteract each other? Which medications cause chronic or permanent changes in the brain chemistry? A favorite of caregivers- who’s in charge of administering the medications, especially to adults? Then there’s therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy. Creative expression therapy. Occupational therapy.  Physical therapy. Dialectical Behavior Therapy.Interpersonal Therapy. Family therapy. Individual therapy.

Add in the basics of life- handling personal  relationships, jobs, food, clothes, places to live, money. Managing life can be nearly impossible for our normally mentally ill family and friends, being looked at with suspicion for having certain diagnoses can push it from nearly impossible to frankly impossible.   

Have I mentioned the lack of insurance coverage available? And the holes in the coverage that place undue burden on families that are ill equipped to handle a disease that even experts cannot agree on how to manage?

Important fact. The violence we are experiencing does not have its own mental health diagnosis. Here’s what author Neel Burton, writing for Psychology Today had to say about the DSM-5, “ Characterizing the ten personality disorders is difficult, but diagnosing them reliably is even more so. For instance, how far from the norm must personality traits deviate before they can be counted as disordered? How significant is ‘significant impairment’? And how is ‘impairment’ to be defined?”

And now we’re going to add this incredibly violent, homicidal behavior to a type of analytical system that is already overburdened with ambiguity?

There are symptoms that most of these killers have that are not specifically covered in our garden variety mental disease diagnoses. I’ve heard them referred to as “warning” signals. Those warning signals are not that, they are symptoms. New symptoms. Give it a new name. Give it a new category.

Leave the people who are all ready working their asses off with the identified diseases of mental illness out of this. Let them do the work that they have always done. That we have always done.

And let’s call the new phenomenon of violent, aggressive killing,  the new phenomenon that it is.

Here are a few suggestions for new diagnosis titles:

Carnage Rampage Disorder

Unresolved Rage Disorder

Fury Impairment Disorder

In terms of the violence that is erupting, here’s  what we know about gun violence alone,( not even taking into account the other types of violence that is occurring.)

In the month of July, 2016, in the United States only, so far:

217 people injured in gun shootings.  

The month is not over yet.

And May was even worse.

30,000 deaths a year, according to the Center for Disease Control. (This statistic includes self inflicted gunshot wounds and killings.)

I beg you, to protect those out there who have identified mental illness to not  be suspect for this new type of violence simply because of their diagnosis of mental illness.

Give this heartbreaking and killing phenomena its own diagnosis.

It’s earned it.



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