I saw this video this morning when I was looking for new topics to write about. It struck a nerve because this is something that has bothered me for a long time. Lately, it seems that the media is trying to link mental illness and violence. While I can’t deny that there are some who have a mental illness that commit horrible crimes, a vast majority of those that have a mental illness never commit a crime. There are also many more people that commit crimes who have no history of mental illness. I believe that this type of media coverage is worsening the stigma that is attached with a mental illness. It makes it harder for those of us that have some sort of mental illness to feel comfortable letting other people know that we have a health problem. It increases our isolation and makes dealing with our illness that much harder because we feel like there is something seriously wrong with us.
Why does the media do this? My belief is that the news has become less about reporting the facts of stories and more about making things entertaining to drive up their ratings. It’s not about letting people know whats going on in the world anymore. It’s about making things as shocking as possible to get more viewers (and more views on youtube). The media uses increasingly inflammatory language to get your attention. What do you think more people are willing to listen to: A man Robbed a Supermarket at Gunpoint Today or Mentally Ill Man Uses Gun to Terrorize Employees? Of course you are more interested in the latter headline. It’s all about shock factor. The media has to go to extremes to get our attention. We are being fed new and creative ways to become more fearful of others on television and on the internet. I’ve noticed that they will come across a new word or phrase and use it over and over again until people become numb to it and then they will move on to something even more incendiary (weapons of mass destruction comes to mind). This is problematic because every time they “up the ante” so to speak, it ratchets up the fear response. People seem to believe that if they are using this new horrible language, it must be even more horrible than the thing that preceded it and this is just not true a majority of the time.
So how does this affect those of us with a mental illness? It limits us. We cannot feel free to disclose our illness to friends, family, employers, etc., like we could if we had a physical illness like MS, or Parkinsons. It prevents us from getting the support that we need. The only people that we can rely on to talk about our illnesses are our doctors and/or therapists. It’s a very lonely way to live. We are limited by public perception and, right now, that perception is that we are dangerous and cannot be trusted. Just look at this editorial just posted a couple of days ago:
The only thing that Dan Patrick did “wrong” was get treatment for depression. His opponent tried to use this against him to demonstrate that he is unqualified to handle the job of Lt. Governor of TX. The man has some other issues that are more relevant to his being qualified for the job, but his previous mental health status has no business being used against him. It would be like saying ,”This man is unqualified for the job because he was treated for Pneumonia in his past.”
So what is the link between mental illness and crime? There isn’t one. We are no more and no less prone to violence than any other person. We have a health condition that we are trying to seek treatment for so that we can live a healthier happier life. There are those who don’t seek treatment for their mental health problems but this is no different than the guy who has high blood pressure that decides not to be treated. It’s time to end the stigma of mental health and violence. It’s time to start promoting the truth.
For another viewpoint on mental illness and crime, I wholly recommend the Listen Up post on Neurotic Nelly’s Blog.
For more information on mental health and violence, read the articles below. Help to promote freedom for those of us doing our best to live healthier.