Tragedies Should Not Be Deemed Senseless


“Senseless” is not the proper term to describe tragedies or violence.




Did you ever notice how often the media uses the term “senseless” to describe an unanticipated tragedy, especially one committed by a fellow human being? It is as if we have to use the defense mechanism of denial to handle the horror of what we are capable of. It happened once again after the local Waukesha Christmas Parade, where 6 people were killed, including Dancing Grannies, and dozens injured as the perpetrator ran his SUV through the crowd on Sunday, November 21st. In an otherwise inspiring follow-up article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on November 24th, “‘The love is so overwhelming:’ People at Waukesha Parade responded quickly, and continue to offer help and support,” the author described it as “senseless violence.”1

To call such a tragedy senseless is to go against all of psychiatry’s expertise. Our field has always tried to explain why and how something like this can occur. How else can we prevent it, treat the perpetrator, and soothe the victims as much as possible without some understanding of how it happened? Indeed, much is already coming out about the perpetrator and circumstances that may provide some sense, including that the perpetrator had apparently suffered from mental health issues, for which he was supposed to be taking medication. We do know that those with mental illness only become more at risk for perpetrating violence if they are not in helpful treatment.

We in psychiatry owe it to the public to advocate for trying to make sense of such tragedies. The explanation can be tentative and reveal itself slowly, and in rare situations be inconclusive with our current state of knowledge, but there are bio-psycho-social-spiritual considerations to explore. The only senselessness would be to quickly and readily conclude that there is no sense.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.


1. Hendrickson S. ‘The love is so overwhelming:’ People at Waukesha Parade responded quickly, and continue to offer help and support. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. November 24, 2021. Accessed November 30, 2021.

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