Yesterday, I found myself in a Twitter conversation with the writer from the NY Post. Not because I was being interviewed or was praising their work, but because I had noticed a caption in one of their articles about Pre-Natal depression referred to it as “feel the sads.” The caption, which was written by someone else, undermined the entire message of her article.
In the wake of the UCLA shooting and the Orlando massacre, mental illness is being blasted over the media. Whether it’s the anchors, reporters, experts, commentators, or call-ins, it has become a constant subject of conversation. The problem is, the context is never correct. If it didn’t spur countless Twitter and Facebook to shares such as “the mentally ill should never get guns” or my favorite Kim Kardashian West tweet of the day, “Oh & the mentally ill can buy guns without a background check too” which happened to retweeted thousands of times, it wouldn’t bother me as much. But the reality is, when it comes to mental illness, the media is still clueless as to how to report it.
1 – Mental Illness is an umbrella term. It covers at least 450 different disorders but we never hear this. Instead we keep hearing the terms “mental illness” or “mentally ill” which is condescending and stigmatizing. Mentally ill is not a term used by many these days because evokes images of insanity and danger. A person with depression, anxiety, autism or postpartum depression is not an insane, mentally ill individual.
2 – Mental Illness is incredibly common. 1 in 4 adults will experience some form of mental illness in their adult lives. With 25% of the population experiencing a mental illness, there is no attempt to be sensitive about this or be “politically correct.” The media uses great sensitivity when reporting on LGBTQ, religious or race issues, but something that spans all races, genders, religions, and sexual orientation still gets lumped into one disorder without clarification.
3 – Speaking of clarification, what is the diagnosis? There is hardly ever a mention of the specific disorder by the media. The shooter in Sandy Hook had “mental illness,” as did the shooters in Aurora and Virginia Tech. What exactly did they have that would cause them to commit such horrendous crimes? Anorexia is a mental illness but I doubt any of them suffered from that. If you can’t be specific, you’re further perpetuating stigma.
4 – Symptoms are hardly ever mentioned. As with the case of the Orlando shooter, all we’ve heard is his ex-wife believed he was bipolar. Countless people across the country now presume bipolar disorder causes mass murder. Violence is not a symptom of bipolar – depression and mania (elevated mood) are. Why is this not being shared?
5 – 96% of all gun violence is caused by individuals without a mental illness which means only 4% of gun crimes are at the hands of someone with a mental health disorder. Take the gun violence that has occurred in Chicago over the recent months. I don’t recall of hearing a single one being attributed to mental illness, but it still exists and doesn’t appear to be improving.
Why does this bother me so much? As a person who has suffered anxiety, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to commit a crime. Instead I’ve turned it into advocacy work for mental health. I encounter people every day with mental health disorders who are successful, educated, family people who wouldn’t hurt a soul. Yet, lumping mental illness altogether is no different than stating that one race is the reason for violence or one religion is the reason for all terrorism. If the media is going to be sensitive to others, they need to take into consideration the quarter of the adult population that is being blamed wrongly blamed for gun violence, mass murder and other horrible crimes.