No, Jaylen Fryberg Was Not Mentally Ill

Radar is calling it “shocking” and “bizarre” that Jaylen Fryberg’s friends and classmates miss him, that they have good things to say about him, and that they’ve built a memorial for him by the memorials for his victims at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School fence. Late last week, Fryberg shot and killed one classmate and seriously injured four others before turning the gun on himself.

By all accounts, Jaylen Fryberg was a nice kid from a good family. You don’t have to be a bad person to own or shoot a gun or feel like hurting someone, and you don’t have to be crazy. Remember when six-year-old Dedrick Owens killed a seven-year-old classmate? He said “I don’t like you” before he pulled the trigger. He did it in front of classmates. To me, casually, these situations sound remarkably similar. A fifteen-year-old — going through puberty, dealing with the stresses of adolescence, and inexperienced with dealing with a breakup — is not necessarily that much more emotionally intelligent or composed than a six-year-old. He was a kid, not a maniac.

There are people who are deflecting Fryberg’s actions onto mental illness that does not appear to have been present. By using mental illness as a scapegoat, we can wash our hands of the conversation we must have about gender roles and aggression. But mental illness and violence have a weak connection: According to the Institute of Medicine, “the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small.” It’s more typical that people who commit violence lack the skills to control their reactions to anger, frustration, and disappointment.

I got suspended when I was 13 for slapping a guy who was harassing me, and again when I was 14 for getting into a fist fight with a friend. Teenagers are not spectacularly talented at controlling their emotions. But you never could’ve convinced me that my anger would justify killing someone: So what convinced Jaylen Fryberg that it was justified to shoot to kill his ex-girlfriend and friends? It bears noting that this is the second shooting this year that has a direct connection to male disappointment with female rejection. We just can’t avoid that conversation anymore. It’s not the only conversation to have, but it’s the elephant in the room, because it’s not just Jaylen Fryberg and Elliot Rodger, it’s also a group of men in China who beat a woman to death for not giving them her number, a man in Georgia choking a woman to death for not matching her online profile, a Connecticut teenager who stabbed a girl to death for not going to prom with him, and a street harasser slashing a woman’s throat for turning down his advances. Do I have to say it again? These aren’t all psychotic people. They’re aggressive people who are targeting women. Mental health can’t be the scapegoat anymore, and armchair diagnoses will be the least helpful contribution to this conversation.

Jaylen Fryberg was a nice, normal kid; he was popular, he was social, he got along with his family, and he was part of a supportive community. His family and friends deserve for the 15 years preceding last Friday to be the way they remember him. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to grapple with the fact that nice, normal kids can become motivated to commit horrible acts of violence, that violent people aren’t marginal, that the reasons people are driven to violence are more complex than “They’re crazy!” It’s a harder and sadder conversation to have, but it’s the right one.

[University of Washington]
[Scientific American]
[Jezebel (1)]
[Jezebel (2)]
[New York Post]

[Image via ThisIs50]

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