The Navy Yard Shooting: Is Mental Illness Always to Blame?

September 17, 2013 Alexa Poe

On Monday, Aaron Alexis went on a shooting spree in a Navy yard in Washington D.C. So far, we know that he killed 12 people and wounded 8 others, and the rampage ended with the death of Alexis. While watching the news coverage, all I heard about was Alexis' mental health history and how he could have “slipped through the system.” Why is our mental health system always to blame? Why is it that many people automatically turn to the perpetrator's mental health as the only explanation to these heinous crimes? Are we just looking for someone or something to blame? Could it be that this person is just mean or evil? He could have had a perfectly healthy mind.

According to CNN, Alexis was “frustrated with life,” but who isn't? Who doesn't feel this way at some point or another in their lives? Now don't get me wrong – there are people out there with mental health problems who do become violent, but this is not normally the case (Are People With Mental Illness More Violent?).

Is mental illness to blame for all rampage killer attacks? Mental illness produces few violent criminals, but it's blamed first in violent attacks. Read this.

People are afraid of what they don't understand. Friends of Alexis said that he was fun to be around and was always laughing, but that he had an explosive temper and had a criminal history. These traits don't necessarily mean that he was mentally ill, yet those who don't live with these traits and with mental health problems don't understand how these traits can make up a person's normal baseline behavior.

This is a debate that I think will forever exist, and this event will cause quite a few of us to shrink back in fear of this stigma, to avoid being placed in that category of violent and ready to snap.

Of course, I am in no way jumping to any conclusions about this particular case because there are still too many unknown facts.

What are your thoughts?

More on Aaron Alexis And The Navy Yard Shootings

APA Reference
Poe, A. (2013, September 17). The Navy Yard Shooting: Is Mental Illness Always to Blame?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Alexa Poe

September, 19 2013 at 2:15 pm

Much of what is labelled 'mental illness' is merely a person showing the effects of drugs (legal or illegal). Unfortunately some of what is blamed on 'mental illness' is also merely a person showing the effects of drugs (both illegal substances and legal psychotropic medications). And this increases stigma for all those with a mental illness. People can exhibit psychosis and do violent things when affected by drugs/alcohol that they would never do when sober. It doesn't mean it was caused by their mental illness. Prescribed psychotropics can have unpredictable effects on a person in the same way that illegal drugs and alcohol can have. But people automatically point to mental illness as cause rather than questioning any illegal or legal drugs. I don't know the facts about this case, so I'm just making a general comment about violence & mental illness.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
September, 20 2013 at 3:29 am

I definitely agree! Thank you so much for sharing this!
-- Alexa

September, 18 2013 at 5:59 pm

It frightens me when we automatically assume it had to do with some 'disorder'. This will keep the stigma alive because people won't want anyone to think they are even or dangerous. Some things are don't just because...not necessarily have a reason. This guy was having his own issues and maybe they were mental illness. But, to start out of the gate with he had a mental illness makes me wonder if they are going to stop there or keep looking for another reason.

Janet Foster
September, 18 2013 at 2:57 pm

I agree. Why is mental illness always to blame? I thought a persons medical history was confidential, even their mental health history? How are loving, caring, non-violent mentally ill people going to be treated because of this hype about a persons mental health whenever someone commits a heinous crime? I'll tell you, they can't find jobs, they can't make friends because they are labeled with a mental illness and are basically shunned by their community, just because they have a mental illness. While mental illness may very well have played a part in Alexis committing the crime there is still the fact that he crossed that line and he had to know he was crossing that line; my mentally ill child always knew when he was crossing the line. With the stigma of mental illness so prevalent no one seeks help when they need it for fear of being labeled. And they "put on a good face/show" of NOT looking or acting like they may need help. THAT'S the reason Alexis was able to slip through their security checks. No one ever wants to admit that maybe they're not thinking correctly and that's how we are all fooled into thinking that something is a good idea, when it really isn't. It's time to put the stigma of mental illness aside and focus on the right or wrong of an issue. In this case he was very wrong and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law AND RECEIVE TREATMENT FOR HIS MENTAL ILLNESS.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
September, 20 2013 at 3:46 am

Thank you for sharing!
While I do agree with you about absolutely needing to put the stigma aside, there are people out there living with mental illnesses who do not know that they're crossing that line. Granted, it's not as common as the media portrays it, but it does happen. Aaron Alexis was killed in the end, so he will not be able to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Again, thank you for commenting, and I hope you're well!
-- Alexa

September, 18 2013 at 12:30 pm

They do have records of psychosis in his medical records and recent hospital visit. His mother also reported that he heard voices that he often followed. In this case, he is clearly mentally ill. In reality, there are huge gaps that need to be fixed in the mental health field.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
September, 18 2013 at 12:54 pm

Oh, I didn't mean to imply at all that he was or wasn't mentally ill. I only meant to point out that every time something like this happens, it always seems as if the first thing to get questioned is our mental health system.
Thank you for replying and sharing, and I hope you're well!
- Alexa

Gail R.
September, 18 2013 at 11:28 am

Until you've seen someone you love and know to be a normally gentle person in the throes of an uncontrollable episode that implodes in spite of their greatest effort to control it, you should not comment. It is unexplainable, sadly sometimes heartbreakingly unmanageable.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
September, 18 2013 at 1:05 pm

I'm sorry -- are you replying to me or to another comment here? Anyhow, I do agree with you, and I'm glad you've replied.
As I said in a previous reply a few minutes ago, I wasn't implying at all that he was or wasn’t mentally ill, or that these episodes don't happen. I only meant to point out that every time something like this happens, it always seems as if the first thing to get questioned is our mental health system. I have most certainly seen quite a few different types of episodes, so please do not think or feel as if I am looking at this from an unobjective point of view.
I hope you're well,

September, 17 2013 at 7:34 am

Hi Alexa! I think a lot of what is reported is just sensationalism; it sells more news and gets more viewers. It is frustrating that someone's mental health is always the issue in the media when something like this happens. While in school,I told a few instructors I was bipolar. When it came time to do my student teaching, I chose not to disclose due to the possible stigma...the "we need to protect the children" idea. Sometimes we just have to discern when to disclose or not. It's a pity that some of us cannot disclose due to the media hype and fear. Perhaps someday!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alexa Poe
September, 18 2013 at 1:08 pm

Hi there! Thank you for sharing!
I agree with you, and I've faced the same dilemma in school as well. Perhaps someday is right!
I hope you're well, and take care!
- Alexa

Leave a reply