In Wake of Colorado Massacre, Please Don't Confuse Me with James Holmes

Author, Jessica Lynn Gimeno 

All the eyes of the nation are on Aurora, Colorado right now as they should be.  As many of you know, at 12:38 am Friday (July 20, 2012), a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in the town of Aurora killing 12 innocent people and injuring 58 others.  These unsuspecting movie patrons came to see the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, on opening night.  Like many Americans, when I heard about the massacre, I cried and prayed for the victims and their families.  I also thought about my young nieces and nephews and worried about the world they live in. 


However, in addition to the common reactions most Americans experience, I felt another sensation—fear of being associated with the shooter, a man named James Holmes who I don’t even know.  Whenever one of these massacres happens, people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and other mental illnesses brace themselves for the barrage of ignorant statements that immediately follow, even before the gunman has had any psychiatric evaluation.  Statements from experts or “talking heads” on television like:  He’s probably bipolar!  He must by looneytoons.  He must have schizophrenia.  Mentally ill people should be locked up.  But what hurts more than talking heads, some of whom are paid to produce sensationalized moments on TV, is when people I know make these statements—acquaintances, friends, and family.  Statements like these are one reason why intelligent, law-abiding, successful people with mental illnesses stay in the closet or crawl back into it.  Many of us fear what our loved ones will think of us.  So we refrain from building support networks among friends and family.  Support networks are people we can rely on in moments of crisis—everyone (with our without mental illness) needs them to weather life’s storms.


I was relieved by one article I saw on (written by Jeffrey Swanson, Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University) that told the truth:  Most violent crimes are not committed by people with mental illness.  In fact, as I’ve said before in this blog, only 4% of violent behavior can be attributed to psychiatric disorder.  And, as Swanson reminds us, “the vast majority” of people with mental illnesses are not violent.  That is the overwhelming truth though we usually hear the opposite. 


If you don’t have a mental illness, please approach this tragedy (and sadly) future ones with caution:  First, wait and hear all the facts before making a pronouncement on what the gunman must have been thinking.  Second, remember that we can’t blame the entire massacre on one factor whether that’s the shooter’s childhood or any illness.  Finally and most importantly, be sensitive in what you say.  As a reminder of how powerful words can be, read this post from a 17-year old on our Facebook page: 

"Why is everyone suddenly waging a war on those who take psychiatric medication? 

I for one do. And the media is making us out to be the ones who cause everything horrible in the world. I'm 17 and I already feel a need to hide my mental illness from the world. It hurts and if you have a problem with medication DON'T take them but otherwise stop labeling those who do for everyone to fear. :/ I'm bipolar not a murderer. In fact I want no harm to anyone.”

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Your knowledge of this subject comes through clearly in this article. I love to read this kind of articles, I hope you will update it. Thank you for sharing it with me.


--The world has several evils in itself. But the most dangerous one is being killed by some psycho person for no reason. I would like to request all the parents to give their children the preachings from saints so that they will not be distracted to do such harm to society.


Dear Heather,

Thanks for the compliment. This massacre has hit home for so many people with mental illnesses who hate being stereotyped. I'm glad you liked it.

Jessica Gimeno, CABF Online Communications Associate, new host of Flipswitch Podcast & Blog


Well-written article!

Heather J.


Thanks Elisabeth for your comments. This article has been very popular because a lot of people feel the way you do. I think that whenever something very tragic like this happens people, the media included, need to pin the blame on someone. In the case of shootings and massacres, people with bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are an easy scapegoat. Over the past few days, I have seen a few reporters not rush to judgement--Anderson Coooper and Don Lemon on CNN. That gives me some comfort.


Jessica Gimeno, CABF Online Communications Associate, new host of Flipswitch Podcast & Blog


You know it's so funny how people are out to judge other, but what many people don't know is that people who have people are one of the sweetest and loveble people you could meet. My son is 15 and he has bipolar disorder. Yes he does his ups and downs, but my son would never want to hurt no one. As a matter fact he haites when he hears about killing and abuse. People need to stop judging and reading more and getting to know people with these disorders.


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