Mental Illness Health Care Spotlighted by Connecticut Shootings — The Dangers of Creating a Stigma

thCA2NORNTIn the wake of what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last week, many people are taking to the Internet and social media, not to mention writing their Congressmen and women, to voice their views on gun control, the state of mental health care in our nation, and mental illness in general.  There are plenty of different schools of thought.  We won’t waste your time going through each one, as you no doubt have heard them all.  We want to focus on the concept that mental health care is a contributing factor to the sudden frequency of these atrocities in our society.

It makes sense on the surface.  We all like to believe that anyone that could commit one of these crimes has to be a victim of some sort of illness.  After all, if not, what do we have to help us rationalize it in our own minds?  It’s easier if we can put our finger on it and say, “well he was sick” or “well, if he just had the care he needed.”  You know the saying about candy and nuts, but we want to point out one potential problem that no one is really addressing.  First of all, there is little doubt that mental health care is not enough.  Yes, if we could make it cheaper, more accessible, it might result in more people getting the help they need.  That could be a great thing, and if it happens over the next few years, at least we could find one positive thing to come out of something so terrible.  However, America needs to stop and realize what they are doing between the media and just public perception.  It’s crucially important.

For the mentally ill that want help, are willing to submit to some authority to get it, and for whatever reason cannot access it, this is a travesty.  But how many mentally-ill people out there that are undiagnosed would go anywhere near a mental institution right now, even if it were free and promised rewards?  Think about it.  We are creating a stigma right before our eyes.  What if you had the same symptoms of one of these individuals, but you mean absolutely no harm to anyone?  You can go get treatment, but soon, everyone will find out, and then what happens?  People start looking at you funny, not because of your illness, but because they start viewing you as a bomb ticking, ticking, ticking, waiting to go off.  The vast majority of mentally-ill people would never hurt a fly, but through the media and our rush to blame every atrocity on a mental illness, we are creating a stigma in our society that the mentally-ill are dangerous and should be approached with caution.

This could affect a mentally-ill person in every phase of their life.  Think about it.  Do you think a schizophrenic who puts in an application to mop floors and do janitorial work down at the local elementary school has a chance in hell of getting a job?  Do you think the local grocery store wants to hire mentally-ill employees?  What would the customers think?  Would they turn elsewhere for fear of being a victim of a random shooting with no clear motive?

You can say it’s not like that.  But it is.  We are creating a whole new division of discrimination for our nation, one that will actually make people resist treatment and diagnosis, not embrace it.  It doesn’t even matter how many laws we pass, how much tax money we raise, or how free and accessible we can make it, at the same time we are creating a host of reasons for those that might really honestly need the help to try to avoid it until the end.  They don’t want the stigma, they don’t want the dirty looks, frightened glances, children hustled away, and the missed opportunities in society as a result of carrying that stigma around with them.

Think about this scenario for a moment.  You get on an passenger jet somewhere in America.  As you are waiting for the jet to fill up, ten or twelve Middle-Eastern men come on board, obviously knowing each other.  What is the first thought that comes to your mind?

It’s a stigma.  Are they terrorists?  Oh, God, I hope they aren’t going to hijack the plane…or worse?

Mentally ill?
Mentally ill?

Yet, throughout 9/11 and the wars that followed, no one ever for one second made the statement that any one of the 9/11 hijackers or Osama bin Laden himself suffered from any mental illness.

They were just evil.  And hated America.  No mental illness.

Sure, people that commit these crimes have some issues that the average citizen (thankfully) doesn’t.  But we are always in such a rush to put a medical term to the crime to somehow make ourselves feel better.  But at what cost?