Sunday, December 16, 2012

A lesson in memes

I almost retweeted that story "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" from Gawker. It's a powerful story in response to the Sandy Hook school shootings from a mother of a child with mental problems and violent tendencies.

Or is it?

Apparently, the mother who wrote this is herself a bit crazy, making her post look a bit made up.

More importantly, the mental ill aren't necessarily violent (being more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators), and few who commit these shooting sprees showed signs of mental illness ahead of time (as this article explains). Rather than a good discussion of mental health in America, this is just stigmatizing the mentally ill.

Since I got suckered into this meme myself, I thought it's a good example to remind people that when something seems to contain so much Truth that compels you to forward it on, it's probably bunk. There are two sides to every argument, so few things actually contain that much Truth. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon, we should engage that tiny critical thinking part of our brain.


rmogull said...


I fell for that one myself, but for a different reason. While it is a *very* small fraction of the mentally ill, I was involved in quite a few similar incidents as the woman described.

It happened on a regular basis on the ambulance. That's self selecting, but the post did ring plausible based on my experience. Heck, my mom worked as a nurse in a lock in psych unit for a few years and has even worse stories.

Thus I don't feel too bad about passing on the meme, since that is a very real experience for some people. But I also know it is a very VERY small minority.

M.J. said...

I think you might be missing part of the story here. The disagreement between the two bloggers isn't anything unusual in the world of disabilities or mental illness.

On one side you have people who talk about their children's disabilities in a not so positive light and say some things that some might find shocking while on the others you have people who believe that saying anything negative about a disability or a disabled person is wrong.

So the story isn't that Sandy Hook is a little bit crazy but rather that someone is taking issue with Sandy being brutally honest about her life.

You can see this theme clearly in the follow up post here -

"I hope this family gets compassion and support. I hope Long’s call for better mental health services and understanding of the pressures parents face is heeded. The points Long made in her post were important. But she did not need to hurt her son to make them."

This sort of disagreement is extremely common in communities that focus on disabilities. The issues that Liza Long brings up are quite real and extremely important even if her descriptions of them might be less than ideal.

Actual violence might be rare in people with mental illness but that doesn't mean that there isn't a real problem in this country with how we deal with mental illness.