By Jalen Gumbs
The tragedy that erupted in Tuscan, Arizona involving congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has inspired several discussions regarding people with mental illness and violence. Now, one of these forums is on your very doorstep.
Seton Hill University (SHU) became the grounds for a public forum on Thursday, February 3, allowing discussions about politics, recent controversial ideas regarding violence and mental illness, and evolving issues.
Speaking on these topics was Representative Timothy F. Murphy. Murphy has represented Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District since 2003. Murphy was elected to the Senate in 1996, and previously worked as psychologist for 30 years, giving him an insight on this topic.
Murphy discussed the tragedy of the Arizona shooting and how the media tried to create a link between mental illness and violence. Murphy wanted to discuss whether an event as tragic as the Arizona shooting could happen again as well as how something of that nature could be prevented.
Murphy chose to hold this forum on a college campus because Jared Loughner, the perpetrator of the Arizona shooting, was a college student suffering from a mental illness. Incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre and the Texas University massacre involved students who displayed signs of mental illness, but actions were not taken quickly enough to prevent tragedy.
“What makes a person do something this?” asked Murphy as he reflected on past school shootings opening the forum. “With this forum we can learn more about the nature of violence and what people think of it.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) approximately 57.7 million adults have been diagnosed with a mental illness in America, with about 6 percent of these people suffering from a serious mental illness. However, the stigma that goes along with the term “mental disorder” causes people to let their mental illness go untreated or diagnosed.
A panel of six was put together comprised of SHU faculty members along with individuals working in the fields of mental health, psychology, and political science. This panel addressed questions regarding politics and mental health, while encouraging questions from the audience.
The recent ties that have been made between mental illness and violence are not accurate according to Rebecca Harvey, marriage and family therapy director of SHU. “The idea that people with mental illnesses are considered spontaneous and dangerous is a stereotype.”
“People with mental illnesses can be dangerous, but so is everyone else. Society isolates people with a mental disorder making them reluctant to get help,” said Harvey.
The current perception of a connection between violence and mental illness comes from the media reporting crimes, focusing on the person’s mental state.
“There is a culture of violence in America,” said Harvey. “I believe it is part of our society.” Violence can be seen all over American culture from TV shows, music, movies, and video games.
Other panelists included Frank Kaplak, communication professor, Laurie Barnett Levine, executive director of Mental Health America of Westmoreland County, Michael Cary, history and political science professor, Joseph Coehlo, assistant history and political science professor and Sarah Livsey, assistant
professor of criminal justice.