I write about gun violence and mental illness too much, I know, but other people write about it too much too. So there.
Recently we experienced the largest mass shooting in United States history at an Orlando nightclub. The gunman allegedly called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS, opened fire, and killed fifty people while injuring 53 more. Hate-crime? Probably. Extremism? Almost definitely. Anger, hatred, and desire to terrorize are all factors in this man’s decision to act violently. Unfortunately, there is also immediately speculation about his mental health status. “ISIS or mental illness?” “Gunman likely had mental illness.” “Was he bipolar?” We can’t even take time to mourn a tragedy before taking up our spots as armchair psychiatrists.
All of this happens right alongside mushy news stories about breaking down stigma, encouraging people to get help, and the glories of healthcare reform and all the new glittery inpatient wards it will bring. Green wristbands, charity walks, and witty T-shirts are great and all, but it’s just a prop. It’s a cute distraction to make everyone feel like they are open and accepting of people with mental illness and not genuinely terrified of us. They think a bunch of lip service and positive attention will make up for the fact that, far away from the SMASHSTIGMA spotlight, we are slowly losing our rights, privacy, and dignity through rabble-rousing journalism and oppressive legislation.
All of this fear-mongering ultimately leads to public hysteria about our existence. My classmates wonder if I’m going to be that shooter. Employers second-guess their hiring decision when I name my disability. People feel justified in saying “I’m totally fine with the mentally ill, I just don’t want to live next to one.” Gee, that sounds familiar. They feel fine with, “I mean, it’s not their fault they have schizophrenia, but they shouldn’t be around us until they get it under control.” Of course! The solution to all the rampant crazy people is to separate, discriminate, and subjugate until they conform. Once they conform, we can all pat ourselves on the back for how nice we were to pay them such magnificent lip service and congratulate ourselves for being the reason they got treatment. We SMASHEDSTIGMA, huzzah!
Guys, it’s just not really working. It’s alienating people like me, who have a serious mental illness and will never commit an act of violence, and damaging my quality of life. It’s forcing the ones who have a serious mental illness and will commit an act of violence into hiding instead of treatment, because they know that you’ll take away their liberty and property. It’s giving hate-filled terrorists with no mental health problems a convenient excuse in the courtroom. Mostly, it’s making all of you more scared than you need to be. People with mental illness account for 5% of gun violence. Why aren’t you afraid of the other 95%?