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Robert David Jaffee Headshot

Restore Sanity to Conversation on Mentally Ill

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He bought the gun with the highest magazine capacity, one that would allow him to fire thirty rounds at a time.

He sought the most technologically advanced weapon on the market.

He gave away his Korans and his furniture to friends.

He tried to conceal his identity on the Internet by coming up with aliases.

Finally, a year ago on November 5, he methodically gunned down 13 military personnel and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood.

Despite all of this evidence, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's defense team, which will be calling witnesses at the Article 32 hearing that resumes on Nov. 15, may very well invoke the insanity defense on behalf of their client. Hasan's attorneys may try to convince us that the onetime Army psychiatrist, a calculating, cold-blooded killer, was insane.

Let us hope that no one on the jury buys it.

While the country is making strides in confronting bigotry against gays, African-Americans, Jews and other historically oppressed people, few seem to object when the mentally ill are denigrated.

Hasan, a sadist, whom I have compared to Iago, is sane to the core. As I have written before, Hasan adheres to Iago's "I am not what I am" creed, a nihilistic philosophy that attempts to undermine Yahweh's "I am what I am" ethos, a life-affirming cornerstone of Western civilization.

No one would ever claim that Iago is insane.

Like Hasan, he is a psychopath, someone who premeditates destruction, for which he shows no remorse. As I have written before, the vast majority of psychiatrists do not consider psychopathy a mental illness.

By contrast, psychotics are simply divorced from reality and rarely violent except when they misread a situation.

Yet many members of the media as well as the public feel free to malign the mentally ill by lumping Hasan and his ilk with those of us who are psychotic. How often have we heard people, even seemingly sophisticated pundits, refer to murderers like Hasan as "crazy" or "sick?"

I recognize that it is part of the vernacular for people to toss out such lines. I do not wish to censor the public.

But it is particularly damaging when popular commentators mock or indict the mentally ill.

Who can forget the disgust that dripped from Fox News host Sean Hannity's tongue when he uttered the words "mental illness" regarding Seung-hui Cho, the psychopathic, non-mentally ill Virginia Tech gunman? Bill O'Reilly showed similar contempt, practically circling his fingers around his ear when he learned from an expert that psychotics sometimes think they are speaking to aliens.

Then there is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who referred on several occasions to Richard Poplawski, who killed three police officers in the Pittsburgh area a year ago, as "the psychotic." Poplawski is by no means a psychotic. He planned his shootout with the cops. Moreover, he has shown no remorse for his actions.

Nor is it helpful when Olbermann routinely characterizes the buffoonish Glenn Beck as delusional, a "whack job" or a paranoid schizophrenic, which happens to be my former diagnosis. Beck is by no means a paranoid schizophrenic. As I have pointed out before, he is an over-the-top clown who turns on and off his antic disposition whenever it suits him.

I do not mean to suggest that all media personalities impugn the mentally ill. CNN's Anderson Cooper, who has done admirable work in fighting bias and bullying against gays, has taken a thoughtful approach on issues that revolve around mental health. As I have pointed out before, when Cooper covered the murders earlier this year at a beer distributorship in Manchester, Connecticut, he never implied that Omar S. Thornton, the killer, was anything other than a disgruntled employee.

And leading newspapers like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times have demonstrated compassion and fairness on this subject by writing articles not only about tragedies, but also the good deeds of some of the mentally ill, like Heavy, a homeless man who lives near Times Square, and Nathaniel Ayers, a schizophrenic musician who lives in downtown L.A.

Perhaps, this is one of the last frontiers in our national conversation on tolerance. Perhaps someday, we will all become more sophisticated about the mentally ill, a group of people who have been with us since the beginning of time, when we lived in the Horn of Africa.

Back then, the mentally ill were often considered shamans, people who could speak to the Gods, who heard voices and saw images that no one else could hear and see.

Later, in the Fertile Crescent, Abraham, the founder of three monotheistic religions, heard a voice that told him to take his family from Ur to the promised land. Today, he would be considered a schizophrenic. And his namesake, Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president, suffered from deep depression and may have had two psychotic breaks, according to Joshua Wolf Shenk's book, Lincoln's Melancholy.

Yet Abraham and Abraham Lincoln, two likely psychotics, blessed the world with their sublimity. Perhaps, we can keep that in mind the next time someone maligns the mentally ill.