On Hatred and Mental Illness

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This evening my roommate and I were watching an episode of May Day, a series about plane crashes. In an episode titled, “I’m the Problem”, a man fired earlier in the day for stealing money from his company (he had been caught in the act by a surveillance camera) booked a ticket on a flight that he knew his supervisor would be flying on with the intent of killing him. Unfortunately, he did not stop there but killed everybody else on board as well. After shooting both pilots and a flight attendant point blank he set the plane on a course that was bound for destruction because it soon went into a nosedive until it disintegrated.

The reason I chose the title for this blog is that my roommate said the man must have been mentally ill, because not everybody who hates someone will go and kill them let alone all passengers on board as well. Since his behavior was not normal, some people assumed that it must have been mental illness.

Well, sorry, but you can’t blame all heinous crimes on mental illnesses. Hatred, resentment, and vengefulness don’t qualify as criteria for mental illness in themselves. That doesn’t mean they’re normal either. But abnormal behavior is not an automatic indicator of a psychiatric condition in itself. 

The mass murderer had a checkered record of drug-related charges on the east coast of the USA, and he moved to the west coast to escape media attention.  He seemed to think he was entitled to commit the crimes he was convicted of because he took offense for being fired after he was caught stealing money from the flight attendants’ cash box. That anyone would steal money and get angry at the consequences of his behavior suggest that he belonged to a culture where many people feel it’s okay to help themselves to other people’s property if their life isn’t going the way they want it to. 

A society that implicitly conveys that message might be insane. Or it may be morally off its anchor and drifting out to sea. Those who act on this sort of message and are caught are punished by the law, but sometimes I suspect that they’re punished more for getting caught than for stealing or any other crimes they’ve committed. 

When one considers the white-collar crimes being perpetrated these days and the impression that the criminals are getting away with them as long as they have power, who wouldn’t wonder about it? But that sounds more like immorality or amorality than a psychosis. 

A psychiatric patient acting violently while in the throes of a psychosis doesn’t know that they’re doing wrong; they’ve lost touch with reality and are probably responding to voices screaming in their ears that if they don’t kill someone, he will kill them. That’s what happened on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba many years ago. A young man in a psychotic delirium was hearing voices that were telling him that if he didn’t promptly kill the young man in the seat next to him, that fellow would kill him instead.

The killer was Vince Li. He had stopped taking his antipsychotic medication some time previously and his symptoms had begun to reappear. Since then he has been treated has realized the awful crime he committed and expressed remorse. Since he could not be convicted because he had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, he was confined to an institution for the criminally insane, but such a confinement is not necessarily for life. If those in charge of his treatment consider him fit enough to be released, I don’t know what it would take to prevent it from happening. For those who consider mental illness to be little more than an excuse for bad behavior, this is probably incomprehensible. They may be the same who chalk all heinous crimes up to mental illness too.

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