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article imageOp-Ed: James Holmes — Mental illness? Really?

By Sherene Chen-See     Jul 23, 2012 in Crime
One speculation I keep hearing about James Holmes, the "Colorado shooter," is that maybe he was depressed because he couldn't find a job after getting his first degree and this somehow led to his downward spiral. This explanation makes no sense to me.
I know times are hard for recent university grads. But, as a science grad with friends who've graduated in neuroscience, I know that no one with a BSc in that field thinks they will get a relevant job unless they get a higher education. To make it in neuroscience, you must get a PhD. James Holmes, intelligent as he is, undoubtedly knew this. To say he was depressed because he couldn't get a job with just a BSc or MSc in neuroscience truly does not make sense.
Other ideas I've heard include: he went crazy because of pressure from his PhD program, or maybe there was pressure from his parents or a falling out with faculty at the school. These all seem somewhat legitimate reasons to drop out and go berserk. However, if that were the case, wouldn't he direct his anger toward the people who were upsetting him, or perhaps direct the anger inwards toward himself? Why would he shoot up a movie theatre full of Batman fans instead of, say, his university?
Some have called him psychotic, but generally people with psychoses, such as schizophrenia, are not able to focus long enough to pull together an elaborate set up like the one Holmes concocted. Holmes' movie rampage was well planned and involved military tactics to smoke out victims hiding under the seats so he could continue shooting them. At the same time, his apartment was rigged with around 30 explosives, with military-style precision.
Others have called him psychopathic, which is where a person has no empathy for others. Examples would include unabomber Ted Kasynski and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. But if this is the case, why did Holmes volunteer at a camp for underprivileged kids? Why did he study mental disorders? These seem like odd choices for someone who just doesn't care about others.
Another suggestion is a brain tumour but if this is the case, wouldn't there be other signs? Charles Whitman, for example (who in 1966 murdered his mother, wife, and 14 others), had an altered mental state that was later found to be caused by a brain tumour, but he also complained of headaches in the days and weeks leading up to the crimes.
Why are we jumping to conclusions that it's mental illness, anyway? Why are we thinking this tragedy could have been prevented if Holmes had better access to mental health care? Do we really think he would have been more likely to seek mental health services if he'd had better access? Holmes was already well aware of the criteria for diagnosis of numerous mental illnesses. For that matter, do we think one of the many people who said he was 'just a normal guy' would suddenly say 'hey, he died his hair red and dropped out of grad school, therefore I must call the mental health authorities?'
When I first saw Holmes' photo and heard his name, I breathed a sign of relief that he is not middle eastern or black. Because then we would be labelling him a 'terrorist' and the backlash would be HUGE; or we would label him a 'gang member' and the ignorant folks would have a lot to say. The fact is, this is American-grown terrorism and Holmes no doubt has a point to his seeming 'madness.'
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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