Destigmatizing mental illness

Every single act of violence involving an individual causing mass harm with firearms brings about debate of stricter gun control versus more scrutiny of mental health status. Both sides argue that regulation will prevent, or at best, deter such violence.

This isn’t a second amendment debate, rather this is a demonstration on how people with mental illnesses are perceived by society.

According to a 2014 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 18.2 percent of the U.S. population, 42.5 million, one in five adult Americans, have some form of mental illness. Only 60 percent of these individuals receive professional treatment.

After tragedy occurs, the perpetrators are psychologically analyzed by the media and armchair psychologists. There is a surge in outcries for the improvenment and accessibility of mental healthcare facilities because every person with a mental health problem will become a psychotic killer if left untreated.

That’s obviously not true, but the media paints the picture that a bad guy is always crazy and mentally unstable, a product of an inadequate mental healthcare system, thus marking every person with a mental illness as a potential danger to society.

It’s a common cliche to hear in interviews from family and neighbors that the perpetrator was a happy and calm person and the crime came as a complete shock or that the perpatrator indulged in violent video games and tortured animals for fun. The point always is, whether clear or not in hindsight, the signs were always there and were unaddressed.

There is an undeniable stigma against mental illnesses. Those affected are perceived as dangerous and unstable, fuses ready to short-circuit. There is also a general  misunderstanding on the various illnesses a person can be afflicted with and their causes and symptoms.

Depression, a disease that affects 14.8 million Americans per year, is perceived to some as a sign of weak mentality and willpower.

Every person has their off days, for some people these off days extend on far longer. In these situations a person with depression may here such things as: “You’re overreacting!” “Stop being such a downer!” “Snap out of it!” “You’re only seeking attention!”

These hearty words of encouragement fail to cure the disease and the person suffering is yet again reminded that they are abnormal for reasons seemingly out of their control. Many times depression, the leading cause of disability for Americans ages 15 to 44 according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, is seen as simply laziness.

That is of course, if the person suffering with a mental illness (anxiety, depression, OCD, bi-polar, eating disorders–to name some popular ones) allows the world to see them suffering. For fear of false perceptions and negative labeling, many people do not seek help.

Pedophilia, controversially, is probably the most stigmatized mental illness. It is so stigmatized that the mere having of this disease, despite acting upon these urges or not, is seen as despicable. Pedophilia is a drastic example of why people with mental diseases don’t receive help: they are afraid of judgement.

People with mental diseases are aware of the harsh stigmas their ailments recieve, and filled with confusion and self-hate, don’t get help. Perhaps missing the vital signs of psychoticness is at fault for the many tragedies that occur, but the labeling, the blaming of the action to mental illness, antigonizes all those who suffer similar ailments. The stigma makes these people afraid to reveal their problems and prevents them from seeking help. The very vocal minority, who lash out eventually, do not make the majority of mental disease sufferers, they merely make up the majority of media depiction.