Friday, June 19, 2015

Stop Using Mental Illness


Mental illness contributes to a lot of problems. Poverty. Physical illness. Addiction. Lack of education. Suicide rates.

But nobody wants to talk about mental illness until it suits them somehow. Like when you can use it as a motive for a mass murder terrorist attack because you don't want to talk about structural racism and misogyny.

To these people, mental illness is nothing but a convenient excuse to avoid talking about problems that make privileged people even more uncomfortable and to distance themselves from the situation. "That openly racist guy killed a bunch of black people? Must have been mental illness, yeah, we need better mental illness treatment in this country, let's get right on that."

Nothing happens.

"That openly misogynistic guy went out to murder a bunch of women? Dang we need to talk about mental illness, let's stop that mental illness problem before more people get hurt!"

Nothing happens.

And nothing happens because no one really pushes for better mental health treatment in this country except for the few days that the latest mass shooting is in the news cycle. We get like one executive order for government officials to look into creating a better system of mental health care and then we dust off our hands and wait for the next mass shooting.

God forbid we actually have good mental health care in the US. Then what would you blame white male terrorism on?

And of course this cycle has the effect of associating the most horrific forms of violence with mental illness. But people don't even know what they mean when they talk about mental illness. I'm mentally ill because I have generalized anxiety disorder, but that illness probably makes me less likely to be violent because I'm afraid of guns, I'm afraid of people being mad at me, and I don't think I could handle the stress of prison at all.

But they're not talking about people like me when they say "mentally ill" or "crazy" or "psychotic," are they? First of all, "psychotic" refers to a specific mental state called psychosis, which is defined as a loss of connection to reality. This takes many forms and is a symptom of many different mental disorders - all of them being more severe than what I experience. Being psychotic is rarely dangerous to other people.

In disorders like schizophrenia, the people who experience it are less likely to hurt other people than the general population. Yet people with schizophrenia are treated so badly by our media and society at large. They're feared and misunderstood and widely discriminated against and abused.

But as much as we harm psychotic people, they so rarely harm us. Which is why we need to put the term "psychotic" as a pejorative to bed.

And unless you're a mental health professional, mental health advocate, or have already addressed the obvious motives like racism or misogyny or Islamophobia and general systemic societal oppression and bigotry encouraged on a daily basis by media public officials and police, then do not even bring up mental illness. Don't do it. You don't even know anything about mental illness.

If you did, you'd know that you don't need to be mentally ill to kill someone. If you do, then what are we even doing to our soldiers? And our police officers?

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