Vegas Massacre – Mental Illness As Motive?

by Dr. Karen Ruskin on October 8, 2017

Stephen Paddock is the much talked about topic in the news as of late. This painful tragedy, the Vegas massacre leads us all wondering why would a person commit such an act of violence and destruction? Is mental illness the motive in the Vegas massacre? Is it possible he had an undiagnosed mental illness? Is mental illness the most recent considered motive? As there has been a range of motives considered and thus reported in the news to date, though not one is definitive as of yet. Today’s blog article through a psychotherapeutic lens includes the following 5 categories:  

  1. Mental health problems are a risk for older adults
  2. Why do we want to know why
  3. Motive theory
  4. Mental health history
  5. Double life       

Mental health problems are a risk for older adults

Age 60 and up is what is considered under the term: “older adults”. Regardless of history of mental health issues or not, older adults are at risk for mental health problems. Theorists address that examples such as changing bodies and chemistry, family, friendships, living situations… all have an effect on mental health. While some adults go through life managing their mental illness that is chronic, do note that mental health problems can also appear later in life with no history. (Even some medications, for example drug interactions, can have side effects affecting a person’s mood and behavior).

Current statistics show that 1 in 4 older Americans will experience some type of mental illness in their lives. Yet the painful facts are that mental illness remains critically undiagnosed and undertreated in this population. Many people do not realize that older adults have the highest suicide rate in the country. Put this info together, and consider that in my observational account in counseling adult males and especially the older adult male population, anger is often depression turned outward. Hence why it is not uncommon for men to be referenced as having an anger management problem. Whereas it is more often for women to be diagnosed with depression, as depression is turned inward towards self rather than outward towards others.

Additionally, let’s consider that there are some news reports that Stephen’s father a criminal, was a psychopath. Thus it leads one to question the genetic vs. environmental age old debate. The father lived an Alias lifestyle. Why are we so surprised that perhaps Stephen too was living his life in action one way (business owner, successful) and yet the internal workings of his mind was violence and illness that ultimately he played out. So then, which is the Alias vs. who is Stephen? Is he who his friends and family thought he was or who we now have seen him to be?

Why do we want to know why – The Vegas massacre

Everyone wants to know why. The human mind is able to move forward when we understand how something that makes no sense makes sense. Without knowing the why – we feel the behavior makes no sense and thus we feel stuck and worried that it will happen again. Our mind makes up all kinds of stories to try to come up with the why. We want to prevent these types of tragedies from happening so we want to know why. All behavior makes sense in context, without the context, the behavior makes no sense. We are all trying to uncover and discover the context so that we can have closure and move forward. The why helps the human mind with potential prevention and closure to move forward – that’s why we want to know why.

Motive theory – Stephen Paddock

We cannot know for sure Paddock’s motives since we are not interviewing him. And even if we did interview him, there are the truths one tells one’s self and the truths one tells others. In this case though, we can only theorize, and there are many out there. The first thing that jumped out at me as soon as I heard this story, and still sits in my mind through a mental health lens was the fact that the father was a criminal. Not “just a criminal”, for that alone is not my point. Specifically, the absence of a father in one’s life due to his criminal behavior, the fact that the father was on the run, broke out of prison, lived life with an alias, and along with seeing at such a young age FBI coming into your home, this all imprints on the mind and human psyche that grows behind the scenes that others do not know, or one’s own consciousness does not even realize and then can surface many years later.

When we experience deep loss (absence of a parent), one key way to connect with the person we have lost is by connecting one’s own actions to be in similar concept as the person we lost as a way to honor their memory to connect to them. Additionally there are some news reports that the father was a psychopath, thus it leads one to question the genetic vs. environmental piece. Whether this background family history played a role in who Stephen was, playing a part in motivation for a massacre, we do not know for sure. Though I do find myself thinking about it and considering it as a piece of the puzzle as we consider this tragedy through a psychotherapeutic lens.

Did Paddock have a history of mental illness?

Just because there is no mental health record nor family/friends report has emerged, yet… does not mean that he had pure and healthy inner thoughts. There are the lies we tell to others and the lies we tell ourselves. Who he presented to be and lived by into his 60’s does not infer his thoughts were in sync with his behavioral lifestyle. We all have a black leather side and a white lace side. Which side we live and others see vs. what is within, and what emerges, may surprise another including family and friends. We all have a stranger side of self, how damaged that side is though and what damage it can do to others, ranges. Is it possible he was so skilled at the art of deception and manipulation to live one life for all this time, just as his father lived an alias?

Did the Vegas shooter live a double life? 

Does Paddock’s girlfriend know more than she is saying?

Some wonder if the girlfriend knows more than what she is saying. She may, sure. I have seen times in my work with women that they knew on a subconscious level, but didn’t know on a fully conscious level of the secrets within their mate. There are things we don’t want to know, and there are things we can never imagine or even allow ourselves to think about because they are so awful. So we push our thoughts to the side and bury them within our mind. Then, days, weeks, months, even years later one starts to remember signs that they missed. With that said, as the days pass will Stephen’s companion have recall of different concerning behaviors that he displayed but she did not recognize as signs of darkness? Or…

On the flip side, it is not uncommon for a mate to live a double life, to have thoughts, urges, wants, needs and a planned intent of harmful action without one’s mate having any idea. I see that every day in my work as a therapist that the spouse, the family, and friends do not know the secrets that lurk within their loved one’s human mind. Through the years there have been many stories like that reported in the news (e.g., Craig’s list killer Philip Markoff, Penn State scandal Sandusky). So, did Stephen Paddock live a double life? One in his mind vs. another in his actions?

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