This piece has now been updated following a Twitter conversation with MP Stella Creasy on Sunday 23rd December. I’ve also added at the foot some links to a couple more excellent analyses of the “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” piece. See below.
How many times is this topic going to come up? Just about daily at present. So here we are, for the next few days at least, getting daily reminders that heinous crime = mental illness, and that mental illness = dangerous and violent.
A simple formula which, Sunday made clear to me, it’s not just the ill-informed (or those who seek to make their careers out of the ill-infomed – see yesterday’s blog post on Piers Morgan) who buy into. It’s intelligent people. It’s people I’ve met. It’s people I’ve admired. It’s people with influence.
First off the mark was David Allen Green, a London lawyer and journalist I follow on Twitter who seemed a sensible and thoughtful chap when I met him. A lot to say for himself on Twitter but then that’s not unique and has gained him a lot of followers (nearly 40,000). He shares interesting content on legal matters and blogs under the name Jack of Kent.
Green roundly endorsed a Huffington Post piece called “I am Adam Lanza’s mother”. He tweeted:
“Outstanding piece on mental health and crime in the US, by a mother”
Adam Lanza is the young man responsible for Friday’s school shoooting in the US. The piece was written by a mother of a 13-year old boy with mental health problems. The mother clearly needs help to manage a situation where she is not coping. But the assumptions, extrapolations and conclusions reached in the article are deeply flawed. (You can read an excellent analysis of the piece in Mark Brown‘s (editor of One in Four magazine) piece for This Week in Mentalists.)
Next was MP Stella Creasy, who I started following only recently after an impressive performance on BBC1’s Question Time. That marked her out as one to watch for the future. She has nearly 24,000 Twitter followers and describes herself as Labour and Co-operative MP for Walthamstow and says that, “Sitting on the sidelines is for Waldorf and Statler”.
Creasy retweeted an endorsement by Mary Ann Siegart of the “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” piece. Seigart, who has over 11,000 Twitter followers, describes herself as a journalist, occasional BBC presenter and chair of the Social Market Foundation. She tweeted:
“Ignore all the horrible disaster porn in today’s papers about the Newtown killings and read this instead. V powerful”
As Inspector Michael Brown (who tweets as MentalHealthCop) said in response:
“This is not ‘very powerful’, it is one if the most irresponsible and outrageous things I think I’ve ever read. It is shameful.”
(Last month, Inspector Brown’s Mental Health Cop police blog was awarded the Mark Hanson digital media award in the Mind Media Awards. The clue is in the name: he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the subject of the Huffington Post piece, namely mental health and crime.)
I contacted all three on Twitter (see the Storify story for my tweets, those of Green and Siegart, Mental Health Cop and other tweeps). Because … perhaps these intelligent people might be persuaded to think again about the piece they had endorsed? Only Seigart replied, with a chilling comment demonstrating that she really had absorbed the “mental illness = dangerous” formula.
And so this ignorant but apparently seductive piece – which could yet prove to be a hoax – continues to circulate on the internet; continues to be endorsed by people who, presumably, believe they are doing the right thing in highlighting under provision of mental health care. But, all the while, they are in fact reinforcing the stigma and prejudice that exists against those with mental ill health. And that can’t be good. For any of us.
But what can be done? A good question, to which I don’t know the answer. Perhaps all we can do, for now, is to keep doing our little bit to challenge these views whenever we come across them. Even if, like me, that just means sending a tweet or two or writing a short blog piece.
On Sunday 23rd December, Zarathustra (of The World of Mentalists blog) and I had a Twitter conversation with MP Stella Creasy. Afterwards, as Zarathustra said, “I think we may have educated an MP today. #win“. And, since Creasy then retweeted a link to Zarathustra’s blog post analysing the “I am Adam Lanza’s mother” piece, maybe some of her 24,000 Twitter followers will have learned something about mental illness and violent crime too. Check out the conversation here.
- “You are probably not Adam Lanza: Mental illness, violence and the perils of speculation” – Zarathustra (@Thus_Spake_Z) writing in The World of Mentalists
- “Newtown” – Inspector Michael Brown in his Mental Health Cop blog (@MentalHealthCop)
- “This Week in Mentalists: the Everybody’s Talkin’ Edition” – Mark Brown (@MarkOneinFour) – Hanna Rosin (Slate.com)