Ft. Hood Shooting: Let’s Not Blame the SSRIs, Okay?

Before starting, my prayers go out to the victims in the Ft. Hood shooting, including the shooter himself, who appears to have been suffering from mental illness. Their families are dealing with an unbearable and senseless loss. May God hold them in His hands and comfort them.

This post, however, is about something else.

I can see the demonization of the mentally ill in general, and a certain class of staggeringly useful drugs in particular, is already starting.

I know that linking an Infowars piece is like trolling my own readers, but I’m sure Alex Jones & co. will not be the only ones making this false and destructive claim.

The idea is your basic non-sequitur, which follows this flawed pattern of logic.

  • A person suffers from a mental illness.
  • He takes a certain class drugs to aid him with that mental illness.
  • While on those drugs, he suffers a break and commits a horrifying crime.
  • The drugs are at fault.

SSRI stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, and they are the first-line treatment for many forms of depression and anxiety. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the GI tract and the central nervous system. SSRIs increase the ability of nerve cells to communicate with each other by keep the serotonin in the synapse longer. Finding the right type and dosage of SSRI is an inexact science requiring careful med checks and a skillful, sensitive psychiatrist. Like any medication, it has side effects and must be monitored.

It is not, however, the ultimate or proximate cause of a violent outburst. The underlying illness is the cause. That people with certain mental illness may explode into violence (something that happens very rarely despite the media image) is not something we should attribute to the medication that might offer the only hope a person has for a normal life. It is something we should attribute to the illness.

So when Alex Jones writes this:

SSRI medication, which is known to cause violent outbursts, is routinely used to treat PTSD, which goes some way to explain why there are so many stories about both active duty and returning troops carrying out acts of inexplicable violence on a regular basis.

…be aware that he’s talking out his ass even more than usual, and that’s saying something.

I have no idea if there are any statistics about how many lives are saved or improved by SSRIs, but I’m going to make up a number and say “millions.” Scaring people about these drugs–and the people who take them–is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous.

I will not demonize Ivan Lopez, a 34-year-old father who served his country and committed an unspeakably evil act. He may, in fact, have been an evil man, or merely a tormented one. His judgement is left in better hands than mine, thank God.


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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.