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Nearly everyone has been debating the problem of guns and mental illness in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida school that left 17 students and staff dead.

The issue hit home last week when Elko High School was shut down for an entire day because of a local threat – one of countless copycat threats received at schools across the country. Our school district boosted security and is looking into the possibility of hiring more social workers.

Addressing the mental health of troubled youths and adults rather than simply medicating them is a good idea. Keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of violent offenders is clearly the key to limiting the loss of innocent lives.

Unfortunately, the field of psychiatry is no more organized or efficient than our intelligence or security agencies which failed to do their jobs in Florida. The variety of opinions among professional psychiatrists is overwhelming, and some of them are downright nutty.

Having recently researched the life of analytical psychologist Joseph L. Henderson, I decided to take a closer look at his thoughts on the topic of mental illness.

Henderson was an Elko native born into the ranching and banking family that once lived here. After attending Elko schools he was sent to prep school in New Jersey. The family then moved to California, where Joseph met associates of Carl Jung, the father of analytical psychology who had a famous break with Sigmund Freud over the role of the unconscious mind in aberrant behavior.

Henderson was one of Jung’s top students and would go on to write a key chapter in his book “Man and His Symbols” as well as edit a film of his final interviews. He also wrote his own books, including one titled “Thresholds of Initiation,” in which he blamed the increase of mental illness in modern society on the lack of significant initiation rituals once used by primitive societies to assure that their young people made the adjustment to being responsible adults.

Growing up can be a very disorienting experience — as most parents of teen-agers realize — yet there is little formal effort on the part of parents or schools to help teens understand and adapt to more responsible roles.

“Primitive man appears to have a much better developed sense of the reality of evil than we supposedly civilized people,” Henderson wrote. “From this point of view we psychologists have discovered to our chagrin that we may be dealing not with an unruly boy but with the devil himself.”

Henderson cited the ceremonial attention given to boys and girls as they come of age in native cultures, including symbolic role-playing that helps carry them across the threshold to adulthood. In contrast, he talks about the growing number of modern adults with “arrested development.”

“Somehow these individuals have escaped the meaningful disciplines which could have carried them safely through the phases of childhood development into adolescence and then into maturity,” he wrote.

Henderson credited Jung with being “the first to try seriously to correct genetic theories of psychopathology by implying that the developing ego is arrested, not only by what has previously happened, but also by its fear of taking the next step in its normal development.”

A result of that fear can be “psychic recoil.” People who suffered from inferior feelings in childhood then overcompensate with “an attitude of superiority or lust for power,” the kind of power an AR-15 can provide.

Henderson also wrote about one of his dreams that puzzled him.

“I was back in my home town of Elko, Nevada, living there and practicing analysis,” he wrote. “I knew it could not be taken literally, i.e., that I ought to be living in Elko. There would not be any use for an analyst there …”

Things have changed since then. Elko’s rural tranquility has faded and we now face many of the problems seen nationwide, as last week’s school threat shows. We need mental health services here just as much as anywhere else.

The American Psychiatric Association recommends restricting access to firearms based on “evidence of dangerousness.” This includes a number of common mental health conditions, such as personality disorders, PTSD and alcohol abuse.

That’s a big chunk of the population. Deciding where to draw the line on gun control has always been a complicated issue as our government struggles to balance safety and security with the right to keep and bear arms.

Some experts are already taking it too far.

“Finally, one has to keep in mind that the presence of a psychiatric diagnosis in a murderer, does not necessarily justify causality, as much as the weapon the person carries,” states one professor in a column circulated this week on news media.

An inanimate object is more of a causal factor than mental illness? Jungians would call such a conclusion psychological “projection,” in which people deny the shadowy aspects of their own personality (which we all have) and perceive it as coming from outside of themselves.

Yes, we should be making every effort to keep violent offenders from possessing weapons. That doesn’t mean we should lose touch with reality in the process.

I admit that I am no more well-adjusted than the average American but if I someday “snap” it will be because of my personal failure to adapt to life’s challenges, not because of the NRA.

Jeffry Mullins is editor of the Elko Daily Free Press.


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