Mental Illness Is Only Part of the Story

I am quite positive countless others with more knowledge, more experience, and more eloquence have written or spoken about this topic. After all, it has taken a life of its own via twitter, forums, manifestos, blog posts, news coverage. The gamut of attention is focused on the Isla Vista tragedy, as it should be.

While no one should relish tragedy, it can’t be denied this incident has put a spotlight on violence towards women–a spotlight that has been desperately needed.

That said, one common refrain is, “Rodger is just a maniac, that’s all. He’s just mentally ill.” I am no psychologist, and I won’t pretend to be one. I have no idea of the true mental state of Rodger before he committed his crimes. But regardless of his mental health, jumping on the bandwagon of, “Oh, he was just mentally ill,” is a mistake.

Not only is it damaging to other non-violent people who are mentally ill because it increases an already present stigma, it ignores the actual problem at hand: That misogyny kills.

Rodger’s manifesto was around before the tragedy. The police knew about it, were warned, and did nothing because they thought he was harmless. A guy revealing actual plans to murder people is harmless? It’s been said countless times, but I’ll say it again: Misogyny is so ingrained in our culture and so expected, that a man admitting he has plans to murder women is ignored and proclaimed harmless.

This needs to stop.

(Again, let me reiterate my lack of a degree in Psychology. I never even took one Psychology class so take it with a grain of salt when I discuss mental illness.)

As I understand mental illness, there are degrees to any disease. Anyone suffering from mild bipolar is still technically mentally ill. But are they capable of living fulfilling lives if their bipolar is managed? Yes! Mental illness, while important and something that needs attention as much as any physical ailment, does not excuse murder. Sources point to Rodger being mentally ill. Okay. Granted he was mentally ill, making his illness a scapegoat solves nothing. Plenty of people have mental illnesses and choose every day to not go on a killing rampage.

There is much reason for mental health reforms to take place, and for stigmas against such illnesses to be removed. Harping on every murderer’s mental illness–if he has one–doesn’t remove this stigma or promote these reforms.

To focus on mental illness and thus pity someone who commits such an atrocious crime dismisses everything that led to the incident in the first place. Mental illness can play a part in tragedy. But it isn’t the whole story. Dismissing Rodger’s actions simply as a result of mental illness disregards the multidimensionality of mental illness, as well as the other factors that contributed to this tragedy.

It wasn’t mental illness that killed seven people–it was Elliot Rodger. It was a culture of misogyny. It was a belief that women are objects and exist for male pleasure. It was the idea that women’s refusal to sleep with Rodger is a crime. It was a misconstrued understanding of masculinity that says control, sex, power, and violence are the epitome of manhood.

This was premeditated. He didn’t make the choice to kill in a vacuum. He is an expression of a culture that says women are property and exist for male pleasure.

It is easy to label someone as psychotic without addressing the real issue at hand. That issue is misogyny and sexism. It is here, it is real. That is the tragic beauty of #YesAllWomen. It shows us just how real the violence and fear really are.

Author: Tamsen Maloy |

2 thoughts on “Mental Illness Is Only Part of the Story

  1. Tamson, We should talk about this in person sometime. We are in agreement on many things. I just don’t see misogyny at every intersection. The vast majority of men have a much healthier and complimentary attitude toward women. I’m married to one of them.

    • It is very true not all men are misogynists. But it doesn’t have to apply to all men to apply to this case. In this case, he very definitely WAS a misogynist. But of course Grandpa is great. He’s Grandpa. 🙂

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