We can’t keep labeling people who commit heinous acts of violence with the same term used for one in four people in this county with mental health conditions.
How are we labeling these violent, heartless killers with the with the same term (“mental illness”) that is used to describe people like Robin Williams and Kay Redfield Jamison (brilliant psychiatrist and author with bipolar disorder) and the many wonderful, compassionate, kind, thriving members of our community?
Why are we lumping these countless people into one group, described by one awful term, and then only using that term in the media when these tragedies occur? How has this language not evolved?
I am not a scientist, doctor or psychologist but I know the brain is a complex organ. Why do we use one term to describe all the conditions and levels of severity of those conditions that occur with it?
These terms have evolved for people with physical disabilities, why not for mental illnesses?
What if they media talked about how the brilliant author JK Rowling (wrote Harry Potter) struggled with depression? What if in the media interviewed one wonderful person a day who is thriving in their community as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, football player? What if the media said, “You’re not a monster.” “You’re not a freak.” “See these fabulous people? You’re like them.” “You don’t have to hate yourself anymore. It’s ok to get help.” “Come out of the darkness and suffering and into our arms. We are here for you and we will take care of you.” “You deserve excellent care and that is what you will get.” “It’s strong to get help.”
What we do hear from media and our experiences:
“You are weird.”
“You are damaged.”
“You are weak.”
“You are alone in this experience”
“We don’t want to hear it.”
We beg people who are suffering and suicidal to get treatment while at the same time shaming and stigmatizing them. Why would anyone want to admit to having mental health issues when they might be stereotyped as a terrible, violent person? We are making people fear themselves and fear getting help. Our shame is poison.
Desperate people are calling for a psychiatry appointment and told there is a three month wait. Their voice breaks on the other end of the phone and the secretary hangs up. This is unacceptable.
People are going off medications that they can’t afford. Drowning in debt because their care is so expensive. They are treated like they are children, subhuman, less- than.
People are calling for help and hearing silence. They are calling for help again; still silence. People are giving up.
We are losing 3000 people to suicide every day.
We are making the next Mozart’s (suffered from mental illness) fear that they are horrible people when they could be composing sonatas. We are making the next Lincoln’s (suffered from mental illness) feel they should hide, suffering in the shadows when they could be the next president.
I am someone who is affected by the stigma. I am some who feels completely misrepresented, misunderstood, and stereotyped. But I won’t hide anymore.
I am so gentle, kind, and compassionate. I am a grad student (4.0 last semester) teacher, volunteer, friend, family member, and thriving member of my community. One time on the subway, a homeless man fell and was crying. A large group of people ignored him. I kneeled down and held his hand until I was able to get him to calm down. I talked to him about hot chocolate, marshmallows and other nice things in life. He stopped shaking and crying and said, “Thank-you.” I am an extraordinary compassionate, kind person who would never hurt a fly, yet I have felt so much shame about having a mental health condition due to the way they are portrayed in the media.
I took a cockroach out of my apartment because I don’t even like killing bugs. I gave the exterminator an organ Popsicle and asked for him not to kill the mouse in my building. I have anxiety but the other side of that anxiety is extraordinary empathy. I have a huge, happy heart.
Yes, mental healthcare is inadequate and sometimes unavailable. This has to change. We can’t look away any more. Our country not serving the people with these conditions and caring for them in the way a civilized nation should. It’s a nightmare.
But people with mental illness as a group are not more violet. We are more likely to be victims of crimes.
Other civilized countries have sick people who want to hurt others but no country has these shootings over and over. We need to improve mental health care but we need gun reform. This can’t go on anymore.
I will not be silent anymore. I will tell the story of who I am. I will ask for the media to stop telling over and over, one story about mental illness. I will encourage other people to tell their stories. I will advocate for new terms and language that do not align people w mental illness with sociopaths. Please join me in standing up against stigma. We are your family, friends, teachers, leaders.
We are not monsters.