News coverage of murders and mass shootings often puts a spotlight on the perpetrator’s mental health, claiming they may be mentally ill with something like schizophrenia. Yet, in 2018, the FBI found that only 5% of active shooters had a mental disorder that includes psychosis.
In today’s episode host Rachel Star Withers, who has diagnosed schizophrenia, and co-host Gabe Howard have a frank discussion about whether there’s a connection between having schizophrenia, mass shootings, and mass murder.
Mike, a retired military special ops personnel who lives with schizophrenia, joins the discussion to share experience and insight as a trained law enforcement professional and person with the disorder/condition.
“Mike” is a retired military special ops person living with schizophrenia. He now volunteers around the world as a humanitarian worker and creating custom weaponry, some of which is used in the film industry.
Rachel Star Withers creates videos documenting her schizophrenia, ways to manage and let others like her know they are not alone and can still live an amazing life. She has written Lil Broken Star: Understanding Schizophrenia for Kids and a tool for schizophrenics, To See in the Dark: Hallucination and Delusion Journal. Fun Fact: She has wrestled alligators.
To learn more about Rachel, please visit her website, RachelStarLive.com.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Schizophrenia. Hosted by Rachel Star Withers, an advocate who lives openly with Schizophrenia. We’re talking to experts about all aspects of life with this condition. Welcome to the show!
Rachel Star Withers: Welcome to Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline Media podcast. I’m your host, Rachel Star Withers. And here also is my co-host Gabe Howard and warning, today’s episode we are going to be discussing violence and very violent acts in detail relating to mass murders and school shootings. Gabe, we’re going to have a very frank discussion on if having schizophrenia is connected to mass shootings, mass murders that keep happening. Many times the media suggests that the murderer/shooter had a mental illness. And the common one you hear is paranoid schizophrenia.
Gabe Howard: And that’s where our intersection is. We’re not here to debate gun rights, gun control. We’re not here to even provide solutions for school shootings, mass violence, etc. Where we come in is that whenever Rachel and I see this on the news, we’re like, Oh my God, that is horrific. And then almost immediately the conversation turns to, Well, what are we going to do about this mental health problem? Well, how can we control people with mental illness? And as soon as the conversation starts to get to paranoid schizophrenia, to schizophrenia, I immediately think of my friend Rachel and I’m like, she’s none of these things. The person that they are describing is extraordinarily rare, but they’re discussing this as if it’s just commonplace, as if all the Rachel Star Withers of the world are just a heartbeat away from becoming the next headline.
Rachel Star Withers: Joining us today also is a friend of mine and a fellow person with schizophrenia who is actually retired military and works with weaponry. We’re going to get his personal insight on people with mental disorders having access to weapons.
Gabe Howard: And that’s obviously an important topic because, Rachel, you don’t want to have your rights impeded upon just because you happen to have an illness. Right. Could you imagine how terrible it would be if you got cancer and suddenly you were no longer allowed to have certain constitutional rights that that be absolutely terrible. But there there is a little more to it than that. And and hopefully we can get into that in this podcast and give the listener, if nothing else, something to think about and maybe some talking points if you are living with schizophrenia or you’re a friend or family member of somebody living with schizophrenia because this is going to come up.
Rachel Star Withers: The mental health community’s knee jerk reaction is always the same. It’s well, people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims than they are the perpetrators of violence or people with mental illness are more likely. Yes, that’s true, but. That’s where the conversation ends.
Gabe Howard: Right.
Rachel Star Withers: And that’s not a conversation.
Gabe Howard: It’s not.
Rachel Star Withers: That’s not even like an explanation for what just happened. If people, I don’t want to say normal. But if you have a normal person who has just witnessed this horrific crime and, you know, you’re trying to make sense of it, it’s easy to just be like, well, obviously to do something this bad, this person was crazy. What is the craziest thing people have? Schizophrenia. So you have these people who genuinely are scared and think that makes perfect sense. And if your response is only no, it’s not possible. No, it’s not possible. Well, okay, but we just saw that it was. And I think that it doesn’t give credibility to anyone in the mental health community when you can’t actively, give any other reasons. When you can’t have that discussion. Because I think one of the most important things that we’ve seen, especially earlier this year, where they had the supermarket shooting, the answer isn’t just gun control or mental health. There’s a big piece that is being completely ignored and I feel like we’re going to keep having problems if we keep ignoring this middle piece and thinking it’s one or the other.
Gabe Howard: And it’s very important that if we switch out some words there, you can sort of hear how ridiculous this sounds as a defense. Could you imagine if somebody got in a car accident and they said, oh, my God, my friend, family member was just seriously hurt in a car accident? And your response was, well, the majority of people don’t get hurt in car accidents. You know, cars are actually very safe. Somebody would say, well, that was a very insensitive response to what happened. Now, I understand pointing it out, it is a key point in the conversation. The reality is, is that the majority of people living with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violent crime than ever cause it. That is an important detail. But if that’s the only detail you’re offering, we are going to continue losing this discussion. It is absolutely okay to point out that in very rare and small cases, some members of our community will become violent and bad outcomes occur. Acknowledging those outcomes does not hurt the Rachel Stars of the world, the Gabe Howards of the world. It actually helps us because now we’re having a full throated conversation about all the good, the bad and the ugly. And that way we can drive, change and move forward. Because right now they just hear that talking point and they just think that we have our heads buried in the sand.
Rachel Star Withers: Exactly. Being able to intelligently respond to people who are scared is important because you want to help calm people and no one is calm after having to witness these horrible things that unfortunately keep happening. So, Gabe, I need you to play devil’s advocate for me.
Gabe Howard: I was built for this.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Just ask my mother. And my wife. All my wives.
Rachel Star Withers: Okay. So Gabe is going to be the average person who doesn’t know much about mental health. I’m going to give you example of a good way for the conversation to go.
Gabe Howard: You know, Rachel, most mass murderers are mentally ill and have schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: Actually one of the main symptoms of schizophrenia is disorganized thoughts, which make it hard to carry out very detailed plans. Another is withdrawing from people. Schizophrenics tend to retreat inside of themselves. They don’t want to have interactions with other people. And many of us have motor issues, meaning that we shake or some of us have full on jerking motions that make it very hard to perform certain tasks like loading a gun, pulling a trigger, anything that’s dexterous with your fingers.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. Yeah, but but most of these shooters and mass murderers, they have these paranoid, weird beliefs, just like schizophrenia. And that’s what causes them to attack all these people. I know they’re related.
Rachel Star Withers: What were some of those beliefs?
Gabe Howard: The government conspiracy theories, far-right conspiracies, new world order conspiracies, QAnon. There’s like a cabal running the government.
Rachel Star Withers: Wow, Gabe, those are like wild. But they’re also very popular. If we go online right now, there are lots of people who unfortunately believe all different types of far-right conspiracies. There are many people who are white supremacists, online groups. And so it’s not just people who have mental disorders who might believe these things. Every day people are more and more becoming radicalized and believing these crazy theories.
Gabe Howard: I want to continue on with the crazy theories, because we are seeing people who hold congressional seats, who
Rachel Star Withers: Yes.
Gabe Howard: Hold Senate seats backing up many of these theories. And I just point that out because if that belief holds true, then we have to believe that certain politicians live with, quote-unquote, paranoid schizophrenia. Of course, I think it’s also important to point out that paranoid schizophrenia is not even a diagnosis anymore. So many of the people who say, well, I know that the people who are doing this have paranoid schizophrenia, they really are operating on misinformation, old information, information that has been updated. And there’s just a lot to pick apart there. I’m glad that you brought up that many, many, many people hold these beliefs just google Flat Earth Society.
Gabe Howard: And you will see literally millions of people participating in this. It gets to the point where if you believe that conspiracy theories prove schizophrenia, then we’re going to have to concede that that 20, 30, 40, 50% of America has schizophrenia because so many people believe in some sort of wild conspiracy theory.
Rachel Star Withers: The word that really pops out, that keeps connecting the two is paranoid because all of these conspiracies that you hear there, you think, wow, that person must be really paranoid, that they think the government is controlling us this way. That white people are going to be persecuted in the next ten years. So it makes sense what you’re thinking about, like, wow, they’re paranoid. What’s a disorder that like is really paranoid people? And then you have this one disorder, even though it’s old, where that’s the first word. So it’s easy to see how someone could make that jump in logic to, okay, you have to be crazy, different type of thought, to believe this stuff. Now, here are actually some of the motives from some of the past mass shooters in the last few years. Now, of course, this is not all their motives. Some of them they still don’t know. But white nationalism, white supremacy, and this is a real common one that keeps popping up. And this one had to do with the recent supermarket shooting, the great replacement. And that’s believing white people are being replaced. It’s a very racist theory. Another thing is a general hatred towards women. Lots of mass shooters just have a general hatred.
Rachel Star Withers: They don’t believe that women should hold positions of power and for some reason, attacking others is a way to get women back in their place. Another very worrisome trend, and it seems to have started at Columbine, and it’s called the Columbine effect, is people becoming fascinated with school shooters, idolizing them, obsessing about them excessively, about how they killed and really like going to the next level. It’s not just being a fan, but being an obsessive fan and basically they kind of make themselves want to become like them. A lot of the school shooters they found on their computers where they were part of these websites where lots of people, you know, thousands from across the world joining these websites where they just like to talk about school shootings. And that I feel that is a very scary thing. I looked up some of them and it was very bizarre. Lots of like fan art like people drawing these like beautiful drawings of the different shooters. And it’s very disturbing, I think, in a very dark, a dark fascination.
Gabe Howard: I think it’s important to understand that nobody is saying that somebody who commits mass violence or a shooter is in their right mind. We’re not saying that. I think that there does have to be a disconnect. Something does have to be wrong in order for somebody to get up one morning and kill the people around them. Nobody is denying that. What we’re talking about is the predictability of it. If we take all of the people with severe and persistent mental illness, all of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia, all of the Rachel Star Withers of the world. If we pick all of us up and put them somewhere, will violence decrease? And the answer to that is unequivocally no. Because the disenfranchised, because the people who feel that they have been wronged in some way and the people who are paranoid about women, minorities, government change, they will continue to be radicalized. They will continue to be pushed to their breaking point. And at that breaking point is where violence occurs. That breaking point is not caused by schizophrenia. It’s caused by some other mechanism that we need to understand. But because we say, oh, well, it’s the mentally ill. Oh, well, it’s the schizophrenics. We’re not researching and looking for the actual warning signs that could help, I want to be very clear, help predict and prevent violence. Make no mistake, something has gone wrong
Rachel Star Withers: The Violence Project, they keep up with a comprehensive mass shooting database and have really been exploring that topic. Here’s what they found out, is that since 2015, a lot of the mass shooters seem to have a sense of entitlement and they’re upset at something, whether it’s women, whether it’s the government, whether it is other races, that something is holding them back and taken what should be theirs. And that breeds hate. It breeds hate and fame seeking. And they’ve seen that more and more where the shooters will say something before they go. One of them said, I’ll see you guys on TV in a bit. Knowing that there’s going to be a big deal, it’s like their way to become famous. And that’s scary to me, but I think that also talks a lot about our society, that wanting to be recognized. And a lot of them are ones who don’t have a lot of friends. Most of them are are big on online forums but don’t have many real life friends. You can easily see that this person did not have many real life friends, but there were very popular on a lot of extremist websites where they found a group that accepted them.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, I’m going to go back to the role that you gave me where I play the devil’s advocate. But wouldn’t people with schizophrenia be much more susceptible to falling in to these kind of things? I mean, I’m trying to ask you if you think that you would be more at risk at believing this nonsense, following this nonsense and acting out inside the group, because after all, your brain does have challenges that the stereotypical normal non-schizophrenic brain doesn’t have.
Rachel Star Withers: When you talk about different beliefs, TV does not influence me. I can watch all types of fantasy type things. And that doesn’t mean I’m going to now suddenly in my head make up this belief about me and Jason Voorhees. You know, I don’t have that because those thoughts are from the outside. A lot of times when schizophrenics have delusional beliefs, they’re very delusional and they make no sense to anybody else. They’re hard to explain. I think that’s always the biggest clue is when the mass murderers and whatnot have a common theory, have that online group. I think that’s a big sign that this person has been radicalized versus this isn’t just they come up with this themselves. Now, do I think that maybe having a mental disorder of any type could make you more open to falling in with violent extremist views? Absolutely. Absolutely. However, I think the connection is not psychosis, definitely not schizophrenia, where you don’t want to interact with people. It’s opposite. You don’t want this attention. I think having psychosis makes it difficult to even learn about different conspiracies.
Gabe Howard: People think that schizophrenia is the start, right? We’ve ended up with mass murder, a school shooting, and we believe that we have started with schizophrenia. But if we’re going to believe in this gateway emotion or gateway mental health issue, the gateway mental health issue is anger. These people started at anger. They didn’t start at severe and persistent mental illness, they didn’t start at schizophrenia, they started with anger. They got mad at something. And that anger grew. What I want to say to everybody that’s like, well, no, it has to be serious and persistent mental illness. It has to be schizophrenia. But why? Why are you starting that far up on the chain? It is much more likely that unresolved rage, unresolved anger, feeling disenfranchised, disconnected, lonely. Those are much more common and likely emotions to get us to where we’re going then something as rare as schizophrenia. I think we need to pay attention to the angry people, the very, very, very angry people.
Rachel Star Withers: I definitely agree with that. I think so many times we hear the politicians and stuff talk like, okay, we need more this, we need to do that. We need to figure out a way to help these people with mental illness so they don’t kill us. And you kind of think, well, I wish the government would do a study or something and just really figure out once and for all, like about these disorders. Turns out they did. In 2018, the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, they did a study of active shooter cases from 2000 to 2013, and they found that 62% of the active shooters showed symptoms of a mental health disorder. However, those symptoms might have been transient manifestations of behavior and moods that would not be sufficient enough to actually warrant a formal diagnosis. So they’re meaning like, yeah, hey, this person, clearly there was something wrong. Had they went to a doctor, though, they wouldn’t probably have been fully diagnosed yet. Meaning they’re not that far. Kind of what you were saying. They’re not at full on schizophrenia. It could be someone who is just suffering with depression. And I unfortunately, I feel a lot of times they could be like, oh, well, it’s just this point in your life, because what also tends to happen before many mass murderers, is there some big life event, you know, a significant other’s broken up with them. They’ve lost their job. There is usually something that has now pushed them over the edge to go to the next level. And I feel like that could be yeah, that’s any of us losing our job. You’re going to go through a little mental health situation there. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to be upset. And how many times have we seen the the stereotype of a girl rejecting a guy and the guy getting upset? No one thinks, oh, that’s people with schizophrenia. They think, no, that’s just a scary thing that happens a lot.
Gabe Howard: Violence is very unpredictable. And Rachel and I just want people to research and look at these violence acts on an individual basis. There may be similarities, there may be commonalities, and there may be things that we can look for to help reduce it. But society wants to paint it with this brush, this idea that if everybody with schizophrenia would just go away, that all of the sudden our society would be violence free. But again, just go listen to a stack of true crime podcasts. And if that does not convince you not to get married, I don’t know what will. I kid. I kid.
Rachel Star Withers: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: But sincerely, could you imagine if that was the talking point, Rachel? Oh, I’ve listened to a bunch of true crime podcasts, and, you know, marriage is definitely an indicator of murder.
Rachel Star Withers: I feel like there’s such a huge following that would be like, you’re right. I feel like
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Rachel Star Withers: That would be, again, those online forums, you’d, you’d have like a ton of people being like Gabe is right.
Rachel Star Withers: And that FBI study, it found that one fourth of the active shooters did have a diagnosis of a mental health disorder. However, only 5% had a psychotic disorder. So we’re talking three cases, three cases that they looked at. Yes, there was a psychotic disorder. Gabe, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about those few murderers, those few cases where the person was psychotic.
Gabe Howard: All right, I’m ready.
Rachel Star Withers: The similarities that they found between the mass murderers who had a psychotic mental illness were, for one, they never really try and get away. After they’ve done it, they don’t run away. One of the guys was sitting there on his car just waiting for the police to come and arrest him. The other guy was just standing there and just let the police take him. That part of, oh, I need to escape doesn’t seem to happen. And I feel that is part of the psychosis where you don’t fully understand what’s going on. Another is a very sharp deterioration in behavior before the event. Two of the main ones that they know of months before one of the people dropped out of school, they went from being all A’s to being I can’t be here anymore. Another one, the friends were like, This guy is completely changed. There’s something wrong. He’s lost his job, you know? And when you look at schizophrenia, I can easily see that, if you’re struggling with a very serious mental disorder, that your life kind of does start to fall apart. So that is a huge red flag if someone just very quickly goes downhill. And the last similarity was that they’re driven by personal beliefs that are not held by others.
Rachel Star Withers: So not those conspiracy theories. Some of the motives and again, some motives aren’t known. But the most specific one was the young man said he was put on a mission, believed that his life was at stake and every life he took was worth a point and he needed points added to his life so that he could stay alive. As he killed them, he was absorbing their lives and taking over their lives and their hopes and dreams. And if you’re listening, you’re like, Oh, that makes absolutely no sense. Right. Right. And even he had a hard time telling everyone because he kept going in circles. That’s a psychotic person. That is not something he found on the Internet and was like, well, that makes sense. No. Honestly, I feel like there’s a lack of anger in it too. It’s very just confusing. Another one was that the Navy was harassing him and wasn’t letting him sleep. They had been keeping him awake for days, sending vibrations through the wall, and a microwave, targeting his brain. They think he hadn’t slept for weeks. He just believed that the government was attacking him. And you think, Rachel, that’s really convoluted and why the Navy? I, I don’t know.
Rachel Star Withers: And the last one is that the government is using language and grammar to brainwash people into doing what they want. And I will say a pause on that because there is a similar online conspiracy. But even that conspiracy, the people who do it were like, no, no, this guy did not, his didn’t fit with ours. So they were quick to disown him being like, No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. He does not represent us. His idea was not even close to ours. I don’t know. I feel like those are all very interesting things because when you say them and you look at these different school shootings and you look at these different mass murders, I feel so many of them, you look and think, wow, that person was really angry at people. And I definitely don’t feel the anger in those motives. I feel it’s more confusion and things don’t make sense. None of them are logical. Nobody is going to be hyping you up like, yeah, yeah. It’s they’re very confusing, very obvious indicator that there’s a problem.
Gabe Howard: Yeah. Well, I mean, short aside, there is another example. Suicide bombers are driven by religion, religious ideology. But we don’t think that all religion is bad. Right? I mean, they literally say, I am doing this because of my religion. And we’re just like, well, yeah, they made a mistake. But somebody else does something, we’re like, Yep, definitely schizophrenia. Everybody with schizophrenia, it doesn’t matter if they know it or not. It’s always schizophrenia 100% of the time, schizophrenia.
Rachel Star Withers: And no one says, no one says, oh, my gosh, we have got to send psychiatrists over to the Middle East.
Gabe Howard: No.
Rachel Star Withers: We don’t think, oh, this person had schizophrenia. We think, no, they were a religious fanatic.
Gabe Howard: They were radicalized. There was something else going on. It’s super important to recognize that because, again, like you said, there is violence. There’s a lot of violence and they are dying by suicide. And yet we recognize that it’s not serious and persistent mental illness at play. We need to reach that same level of understanding over here if we have hopes of getting ahead of it. It’s traumatic to watch it.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes, it’s horrible.
Gabe Howard: I know that I was not personally involved with any of these things, but but every time this comes up on the news, it’s painful to witness. I really, really wish that people with schizophrenia would stop being blamed for it, number one. But, I wish you and I didn’t have to have this conversation at all, not because people weren’t blaming us, but because this wasn’t happening. And that leads me to my next question. I honestly don’t know your answer, but you live with schizophrenia. What are your thoughts on people like you or even yourself owning firearms? Do you believe that you should be allowed to own them?
Rachel Star Withers: And just to remind all my listeners, if they couldn’t tell by my vocals, I am from the South. I grew up around guns and hunting and like that was just a common thing. My family didn’t, but it was very commonplace. So I almost on some level, I don’t want to say I’m like, woo for guns, but I am more open to guns because I grew up around them. That being said, I think that anybody, mental issues or not should not have access to any type of firearms if they have a problem with anger. So if so-and-so is always flying off the, you know, getting upset, throwing temper tantrums, I don’t want that person to have access to something that could kill other people so quickly. I also think that people should be trained safely how to use them, and you shouldn’t have one if there are children around, that can easily get to it. So either you take steps to make sure that does not happen or you just say, Hey, I can’t have a gun around because my 16-year-old will probably figure out the lock. Nothing to do with mental health. Now, the step further on that, because I have spoken about this, that I don’t want guns around me. The reason I don’t want them around me is because, yes, I have suicidal thoughts. I have thoughts to self harm. They come up very quickly and I can think I’m fine.
Rachel Star Withers: And then something will flash into my head about, Hey, smash your face against this wall. While I’ve never had a thought to shoot myself, I have been suicidal and I don’t want to have access to a gun. And you’re like, Rachel, you could still, you know, use a knife. Yes. There are many ways that you can turn back. A gun, I feel like there is no turning back. And it’s too easy to make a very bad decision when I might not be mentally capable. So that is my choice. Again, and I’m someone who I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts since since I was like a young, young teen. And I think that’s important for people to to acknowledge, you know, if you’re someone whose self harms, if you’re someone, you know, who has these issues and if you have a desire to hurt other people, whether it is thoughts or you’re just always upset at life, if you’re someone who like I have an anger issue people have brought up, then yeah, I do not think you need to have access to a gun. That’s dangerous for for everybody, whether it’s just, hey, I’m really mad at like my wife. Hey, I’m really mad at my coworkers all the time. I’m always blowing up. I just, I, I think that’s scary to have access to something. If you can’t control your voice, I’m seriously if you can’t control your voice and you’re hollering at me, I sure don’t want you to have a gun because you can’t even control your voice.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing whether or not schizophrenia is connected to mass shootings.
Rachel Star Withers: I think something that’s very important that I also mention because people are going to hear, well, Rachel, you just said, you’re safer if you don’t have access to a gun. So why don’t we just make it safer for everyone? I also don’t use lawn mowers. I also don’t use electric drills. I don’t touch them. I don’t use them. And that has to do with urges to do very bad things to myself with them. Which both of those I’ve actually had since I was a teen. So. Along the same lines. You should be like, well, Rachel said we should ban all guns. Well, yeah, but then I also need you to do lawn mowers and electric drills, because honestly, those are the ones I have temptations for. And, yeah, it’s I can’t be around them. That is something that I’ll go out of my way to avoid, unfortunately.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, I appreciate you bringing that up, because people living with schizophrenia have all kinds of coping skills that they use, people they they won’t drive cars. If they ride in cars, they will only ride in the back seat. They they prefer not to drive on the freeway. There’s lots of coping skills that people with schizophrenia learn and have learned on this very show. And, Rachel, we have a long standing tradition on Inside Schizophrenia of inviting a guest. And we try to find guests that are different from us, that know things that we don’t. Today we have a person living with schizophrenia who was in the military, in law enforcement, responsibly owns guns and other firearms and in fact, makes his living manufacturing weapons. And we invited him on to talk about his experience as a person with schizophrenia in essentially, for lack of a better term, the weapons industry. Let’s go ahead and play that interview.
Rachel Star Withers: Today, we are excited to be talking to someone who has actually been a friend of mine for a few years, Mike. Thank you so much for joining us, Mike.
Mike: Thank you for having me.
Rachel Star Withers: He is retired military. And Mike, tell us a little bit about your background.
Mike: I served 20 years in the United States Army from 1999 to 2019. Multiple combat tours around the world. We also have history with law enforcement. Georgia SWAT. Ohio. SWAT.
Rachel Star Withers: And you also are now a humanitarian worker, correct?
Mike: I guess you could say that. Yes. Just got back from Ukraine two and a half weeks ago.
Rachel Star Withers: And something else about you is that you have schizophrenia, like me and like a lot of the listeners on this show.
Mike: That’s correct. When I was first diagnosed, I was a teenager and it was paranoid schizophrenia. But now they don’t use that term anymore.
Rachel Star Withers: That’s that’s the fun one I was diagnosed with, too. And something that I find really interesting about you is that you actually create custom weaponry. So who all do you create this weaponry for?
Mike: We have made them for our military and law enforcement agencies. We have also supplied both live weapons and props for Marvel Studios and Paramount.
Rachel Star Withers: Very cool. And of course, any time you say Marvel, like everybody knows Marvel, it’s just, oh, yeah, you’re like all the weapons and stuff they have in Marvel, all the futuristic sci fi. So cool. Now, I got to be honest. So, Mike, of all the people I know who have schizophrenia, you are the only one I know of. I could have someone else and they just haven’t shared this with me that is actively using weapons and specifically guns. The reason that that’s odd is because so we have these stereotypes in the media, of course, of these mass shooters, these mass murderers that unfortunately here in America, keep happening. And most people are scared of the mentally ill. We hear over and over, a gun doesn’t shoot, you know, a person pulls the trigger. And of course, we’re assuming there’s something very wrong with them. So saying all of that, you’re the fear, right? You are a schizophrenic with a gun. You’re technically what they think they’re afraid of. Right?
Mike: I am a paranoid schizophrenic combat veteran. Yes.
Rachel Star Withers: Yes. So tell our listeners, tell people who have that stereotype, who have that misconception that you have to be afraid of people with schizophrenia, especially ones who have access to weapons. Why they shouldn’t be afraid of us.
Mike: I would ask them in the first place why they are afraid of us. Is it because of what’s on the news? Or is it because how schizophrenia is portrayed in movies and literature? That would be my question.
Rachel Star Withers: What are some of the steps that you take with your company to make sure that weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands?
Mike: Every firearm we make has a chip in it. If that weapon is lost, stolen, left behind at a bar, whatever, we can find where that weapon is.
Rachel Star Withers: Wow. I didn’t know such a thing existed.
Mike: Yeah. We can go find that weapon, and that chip cannot be removed without destroying the gun.
Rachel Star Withers: Wow. It makes sense that would exist because, you know, they have the little Apple tags you can slide and hide in your child’s backpack and keep up with them. But I just didn’t think about it for guns. That’s very smart.
Mike: And our weapons are for military and law enforcement agencies only. We did not sell to the public.
Rachel Star Withers: When all of these unfortunate mass murders take place. And we’ve had two, unfortunately, already this year that have been very widely publicized in the news. Some people, especially they push this in government a lot, believe that it’s 100% a mental health issue. Is that what you believe or do you think there’s some other thoughts going through there?
Mike: No, it’s not 100% a mental health issues. The way you were raised, your your own personal your moral compass.
Rachel Star Withers: Has anyone ever given you problems knowing that you have schizophrenia and that you work with weapons? Have you ever had a hard time with anyone finding out? Like friends or even coworkers? Family?
Mike: Absolutely. As far as other people finding out what I do for a living. I try to keep that to myself because I know there are people who have found out before and then have come at me with you’re schizophrenic. You’re paranoid war vet. What are you doing with all this stuff? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to? No. No, I’m not. Friends and family. They they know everything there is to know about me. They’re fine with it. They trust me, my coworkers, they know that I have a mental condition. They do not know details. They have been working with me for a long time now and we make things, test the guns, we go out and fire them. They all trust me.
Rachel Star Withers: What would you like the average person to know about people with schizophrenia? What would you like them to know about us?
Mike: We’re not scary. We’re not dangerous. We’re just like you. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Come be my friend. Have a cup of coffee with me.
Rachel Star Withers: Since I’ve known you know for a few years, I trust you. And I’ve trusted you with my life in the past, unknowingly, by you going over, you serving for the military for so long. Do you think that that, that right there should be one of the reasons people aren’t, shouldn’t be afraid of you? Is that in a way you’ve risked your life multiple times for Americans?
Mike: Yes. Yes, I understand that. And I would tend to agree with that.
Rachel Star Withers: Now, this is a kind of intense question, but I want to ask it. Something I came across in my research is that the FBI found when they looked at the different mass murderers over the past few years, only three of the cases actually involve someone who was suffering from psychosis. When you look at that statistic. So I would love to say, hey, schizophrenia, people with schizophrenia are completely safe. There’s no reason you should fear us. But yes, there were three cases where the person did come up as having a schizophrenia like disorder, and was suffering for psychosis. If someone is out there listening right now who is suffering from psychosis and playing with this idea of getting a gun or attacking other people, what would you say to them? Someone who might be out there like us, who has that thought in the back of their mind that’s been playing around?
Mike: Call a friend or family member, someone to talk to. If you need to call the 281 care number, call the suicide prevention hotline. If you need help, you work getting help. We can feel better.
Rachel Star Withers: And what would you say to loved ones who might see changes in the person they know as schizophrenia? It might be worried about them taking it too far.
Mike: I would say that your friend or family member would probably benefit from some form of psychotherapy, medications if necessary. We do wonders nowadays with both therapy and meds. Things can be not cured, but their effects can be lessened.
Rachel Star Withers: And something that I do want to point out to our listeners, because I know we have so many people who have schizophrenia and it can be frustrating. You know, everybody has ups and downs in life. But I think when you add on that label of schizophrenia, it can make things almost feel impossible. And I am so excited to have Mike on here. And because Mike, you sound really cool. I mean, you do all this cool. You just got back from Ukraine. And then you’re making, like, movie weapons for Marvel, and then you’re making, like, the stuff that police use. So thank you so much for being like a good example because I know, like, for me, I’m like, Whoa, that’s so cool. I know there’s listeners out there who are thinking, I didn’t realize I could do all that stuff while having schizophrenia.
Mike: You absolutely can. You could own your own house. You can own your own business. I’ve done it. I’m doing it now. You can do it, too.
Rachel Star Withers: And I think you’re an absolutely wonderful role model for not just people with schizophrenia, but young men, especially, who might be interested in guns and this would be a good route is how can you use them to protect whether your country how can you use them to stand up for people who need protection?
Mike: Yes. Yes.
Rachel Star Withers: Thank you so much for serving. Thank you so much for making all those sacrifices that you did in the military for us. Thank you for all the amazing humanitarian work that you have continued doing, and thank you for being an amazing role model for people with schizophrenia.
Mike: All right. Thank you.
Rachel Star Withers: All right. Thank you, man.
Gabe Howard: Rachel, thank you so much for that interview. When I was listening to the interview, I was thinking of the whole you both live with schizophrenia. What did you, Rachel, as a person living with schizophrenia, think of what this gentleman was saying?
Rachel Star Withers: I mean, at no point during the interview did I think, oh, man, this, this is scary, that this guy can do a lot of damage, even though logically, the government has sent him to go and do damage. Like they paid him to go and do that exact thing. I wasn’t scared at all. He was very calm when he was speaking. I felt, I don’t want to say safe, but I thought, Hey, yeah, this is the kind of person I want protecting me. And obviously the government thought that for many years the exact same thing. They thought, hey, we can trust this guy, enough to send him on multiple tours to do all this and even still trusting him. And I just think that’s very important because I do know earlier I’m like, I wouldn’t trust me, but it really has nothing to do with schizophrenia in general. It does have to do with my own worries about personal issues with self harm and suicidal urges.
Gabe Howard: Listening to the interview, Rachel, I just hearing this man lives with schizophrenia, but he’s also a veteran. And I wonder how many people out there are living with schizophrenia, are managing severe and persistent mental illness, that are at his level? Because before he told me that he had schizophrenia, before you told me, before I read his information, I didn’t know. He just looked like a guy who had a job and this was his resume. So I do want to let people know, especially people living with schizophrenia who are still working toward recovery, especially for the caregivers who are listening that are like, well, do people ever recover? The reality is, is as Rachel and I joke all the time, Rachel walking down the street just just looks like a woman walking down the street. She doesn’t look like a woman with schizophrenia walking down the street. So often we tend to see people with schizophrenia in a certain light because we don’t have anything to compare it to. So just remember when when you see this gentleman, you’re not going to think to yourself, here is a man with schizophrenia who works in the weapons industry and has no issues. You’re just going to say, I see a man who works in the weapons industry. So it’s important to understand that people with schizophrenia and people with severe and persistent mental illness are everywhere in our society. They’re just not as open as Rachel. And it sort of creates this idea in our mind that people with schizophrenia are only in crisis, and that, I believe, contributes to this misinformation campaign. And I think that’s worth pointing out to people who think, well, schizophrenia is the cause of mass violence, because, after all, we only hear about it when it’s negative. Well, yeah, that’s because when it’s positive, people are just going to work. They’re just they’re just paying their bills. They’re going home, they’re raising their families, they’re going to concerts. We look like boring people.
Rachel Star Withers: We’ve been hearing over the past years. You know, if you suspect someone who’s planning to do something dangerous, if you see signs, you know, report it. Speak up, whether it’s going to officials. My favorite was a few years ago a grandmother whose grandson lived with her. She found in his room a map of the school and plans to shoot it and a gun. And she immediately took it to the police because she was worried. She probably saved who knows how many lives. That’s amazing. She was that brave and know that, hey, clearly he needs help and I’m not able to do it. So all of us, whenever you see these signs and other people do speak up because you could be saving a lot of lives. I really want to talk to people out there that’s listening right now. And you have noticed that your thoughts are becoming violent, whether it’s towards yourself or to others. You need to get help. And this has nothing to do if you’re just a loved one listening right now and you listen because your, you know, daughter has schizophrenia, you know, someone you know and love and you think, well, actually, yeah, I’m always angry.
Rachel Star Withers: I’m always, you know, being pushed. I feel that you need to get help. Am I saying you’re going to go out and do something like horrible and stupid? No. But walking around angry all the time, it’s not good for you. And it could lead to other things. So, if you’re having these thoughts, urges, please speak up to your doctors, your counselor, whoever you receive any sort of care from. And if you find yourself starting to believe new thoughts, tell someone if you realize that you’re becoming obsessed with something, even if you’re like, Rachel, it’s not that big a deal. If you find it’s something new that you’re becoming obsessed with, these are all red flags. For those of us with schizophrenia, a lot of times it’s this kind of little downward slope where you don’t realize how far down you’ve gotten until things get really bad. So, when you see these kind of thoughts that you’re not used to, when you see small beliefs that, hey, I used to not think that, go ahead and let somebody know. Because the quicker you address them and acknowledge them, the easier it is to manage them. Recently I started having a delusion that there was a power inside of me.
Rachel Star Withers: I could feel it moving around. Now, I knew it wasn’t real, but that didn’t mean I stopped feeling it. And I didn’t want to tell my counselor because I’m like, it’s stupid. It’s not even like, I mean, it’s not like a scary delusion. It’s not like, you know, it’s not causing any hurt to anybody for me to have this. But I thought it was important to bring up. So, I spoke to my counselor. Of course, when it happened, I was crying because I was just I was embarrassed to tell her because I was like, I sound like an idiot, probably. But once I did that, we were able to talk about, okay, we do need to track this because it’s odd, Rachel, that you out of nowhere suddenly got this delusion. Was there a triggering incident? And if there wasn’t, maybe it’s the beginning of a psychotic episode. Since then, yes, I’ve been very meticulously tracking my thoughts. When abnormal thoughts come into my mind, I write them down and acknowledge them. Now, Gabe, knowing that I do all that, knowing that when I start to think weird stuff, I immediately write it down and I tell my therapist, does that make you feel safer about me or more fearful?
Gabe Howard: I feel safer knowing that you are aware and getting help and seeking treatment and for essentially nipping issues in the bud. Not only do I feel safer, but I’m also proud of you. I’m proud of you for recognizing that you need help and seeking it. Like that’s got to feel very empowering from your perspective as well. To save yourself, whether they wait until a crisis point where somebody has to intervene on your behalf. It makes me, as a regular citizen, feel safer.
Rachel Star Withers: Well, thank you, because I feel like that’s the fear so many times people are like, well, if I start telling people about my hallucinations, my delusions, they’re going to be scared of me. They’re not going to feel safe around me, even if it’s a delusion that isn’t a scary one. It’s not like, you know, you’re wanting to hurt people. It’s just that something’s off. And I feel like that’s why a lot of people don’t report that they have schizophrenia, is that they’re afraid of how others will react. And usually they’re afraid they’re going to be feared.
Rachel Star Withers: So, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Insight Schizophrenia. I know it was way, way intense. It’s probably been one of my hardest ones to research because of it’s been a lot actually looking at individual cases and all the things that they did believe. So yeah, this is this has been a very difficult one for me to do. But thank you so much for listening. Please like, share, subscribe and rate our podcast and we’ll see you next time on Inside Schizophrenia, a Healthline Media podcast.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Schizophrenia, a podcast from Psych Central and Healthline Media. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/is or on your favorite podcast player. Your host, Rachel Star Withers, can be found online at RachelStarLive.com. Co-host Gabe Howard can be found online at gabehoward.com. Thank you and we’ll see you next time.