Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If the Virginia Tech Gunman Was On Meds, Does That Get Him Off the Hook?

Cho Seung-Hui brazenly poses with his murder weapons
Today's news was filled with little else but the terrible tragedy of how a mad gunman opened fire on innocent college students on an American campus. I never dreamt that I would find a personal connection to this nightmare, but hot off the Drudgereport I followed a link that read "Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking meds for depression..." "What on Earth does Depression have to do with killing people?" I thought, but investigators apparently thought otherwise:

Investigators believe Cho at some point had been taking medication for depression. They are examining Cho's computer for more evidence.

Sources: Virginia Tech gunman left note | Chicago Tribune

I'm not sure what evidence they expect to find about his medical history on his computer. You'd think that they would find that sort of thing in his medicine cabinet. I believe what is really happening here is that they are simply, even desperately, trying to find an answer to the great question "WHY".

Why would such a terrible thing happen? Why would somebody get upset at his girlfriend then remove over 30 random people from this Earth? Many of us want answers; I just don't believe that the diagnosis of Depression is the correct one. However, Depression has been used many times recently to excuse horrible crimes.

Since when did being involuntarily sad excuse violent behavior? Did it start with Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned all five of her children in the bathtub, ages seven and younger? Her defense attornies tried to have her declared insane due to Postpartum Depression. One of her children was five just like my youngest. Have you ever tried to discipline a five year old? I've had four of them and let me tell you they don't sit still for a swat on the bum, nevermind being forced under water. It requires lots of energy to even get five year olds to stand still and look at you when you scold them. When I am depressed, energy is the last thing I have in abundance. Most people, in fact, who have Depression mope about in an apathetic funk, or can't even get out of their beds, nevermind drown a small family of five or, as was with the case today, load up with ammunition TWICE and slaughter fellow human beings indescriminately at TWO separate locations.

Over four million babies were born in America in 2005 (the most recent data published at the National Center for Health Statistics). That's a lot of mothers experiencing Postpartum Depression even if the percentage is as low as 5%. How many of them drowned their own children? For that matter, how many people do you know suffering from Depression who recently loaded up like Rambo and went postal in your community?

Unfortunately, Andrea Yates' community accepted the insanity plea even though she had been convicted previously in an overturned trial. This forever gives Postpartum Depression an ominous side. I suppose it was too horrible for the jury members to conceive that any mother could knowingly murder her children slowly by holding them under water. This despite the fact that two months prior to the terrible deed she had previously filled the tub for that very same purpose. When asked what was within herself that stopped her from doing it that time she simply replied:

Just didn`t do it that time.

CNN.com - Transcripts

Her husband was home then along with the children. When he found her sitting staring by the tub he took her back to the hospital for medical help. Two months later she completed the deed.

I can't say I know what was going through Andrea Yates mind at the time. I can't say I know what was going through Cho Seung-Hui's mind either. However, I do know what it is like to spend years suffering from Depression. I can tell you from my experience that I had an awful lot of choice in the matter. No, I didn't choose to have Depression, but I did choose to let it run its course in me. I chose to wallow in sadness. I chose to mindlessly watch TV and play RPGs for hours on end. I chose to cut myself off from friends and family. I chose to remain miserable. Until one day I decided I had had enough. Meds didn't work. Therapy didn't work. I decided to try a very radical treatment instead; I decided to think positive for a change. I decided to think "Can Do." The transformation wasn't immediate, nor was it miraculous. In fact, I spent many years retraining my mind, but I eventually succeeded and found relief and freedom from the nonstop waves of sadness that crushed my soul.

I discovered years later that there was a name for the self-therapy I had undergone. It was called Cognitive Behavior Therapy. I could have cut years off my recovery if I had only known. But now you know. If you suffer from Depression you don't have to remain a victim. If meds don't work, if the traditional shrink's couch doesn't work, perhaps a CBT's guidance can. You have to make a choice, however. You have to decide to be happy and to conquer sadness. No certified professional or happy pill can do it for you. As with Cho and Andrea, loved ones provided the psychological help, but you know what they say about leading horses to drink.

Cho made choices. Cho made plans. And Cho robbed us of justice because, as with so many mass-murderers, he left us haunted by questions with no comforting answers by taking his own life. Experts will be asking these questions for some time while trying to piece together the events that led up to today. Depression is just one of many ideas being floated around, but it is my opinion that depression is a weak excuse for the horror Cho performed. Unbalanced he may have been, but he knew enough to prepare. He took time to plan it out. That's very un-depressive behavior. Additionally, knowing Cho was Depressed will be small comfort to the families of the deceased. Depression is treatable, even conquerable, but only Cho knows why he made the decisions that he did.

Update: 4/18/07 3:34:53 PM: Apparently, Cho's girlfriend was an imaginary supermodel named "Jelly". This from people who claim to know him, though they also say he was a loner who didn't talk to anybody. Take that for what it's worth. More importantly, I have now learned that Cho was admitted to a psychiatric hospital near Virginia Tech after a stalking incident. The doctor's evaluation, although a little over a year old, was nonetheless illuminating:
"He denies suicidal ideation. He does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder," the doctor wrote. "His insight and judgment are normal."

Update: 4/18/07 4:18:26 PM: I have added a just-released photo of Cho delivered to NBC in his so called "multimedia manifesto". Cho was not a depressive. He was a terrorist. He planned this attack. He even took time to mail a package with his manifesto inbetween killings. Comments below chide me, but I stand by my assessment. Don't blame Depression here folks. That's a disservice to millions of non-murdering people world wide who suffer from Depression.

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