One of the other modern phenomena we have here in the U.S. is blaming mental illness, the mentally ill, and mental health systems in general for sensational news. This is especially noteworthy when the news happens to involve a gun and a bunch of dead people. It gets presumed that mental illness had to be involved.
This thinking ignores reality.
I know this is a controversial statement to some, but it needs to be said. Not every mental illness is the same. They manifest in different ways, cause different symptoms, and affect different things. Someone who is depressed might just have low energy, or reduced interest in daily activities. That person might not be depressed enough to require attention from professionals. Then again, it could just be the start of a downward slide.
This is the biggest problem with regards to mental health. It requires figuring out what’s going on in one of the least understood organs of the human body. Right now our best tools for dealing with mental health involve talking to patients. Scans can find physical problems, but problems with function have to get talked through. Diagnosing what’s wrong can be hard.
Even if someone has a mental health diagnosis, it doesn’t mean the illness is in control of every part of the person. Nobody blames grocery shopping on bipolar disorders, or artistic expression on schizophrenia. Likewise, just because a person has a mental health diagnosis, it doesn’t mean that diagnosis affects terrible behavior.
Despite that reality, it’s still easier to blame the mentally ill. Part of this is because it’s hard to dispel stereotypes. Another is because it’s terribly convenient to just blame something and move on, rather than look at how it works. One can call generally for action, even sugarcoat it as helping unfortunate people, and nobody really is going to speak up against it. Nobody wants to get talked about like they’re crazy.
Don’t believe me yet? Well, consider also that I’ve been writing about mental illness this entire time without even defining it. I’ve talked about some general disorders, but I haven’t given out the definition yet. That’s how easy it is to talk about something without even giving anyone a sense of what I’m actually talking about.
Here’s a good definition.
I linked to the American Psychiatric Association’s page because it also provided some statistics (current as of 2015). Nineteen percent of adult Americans experience mental illness, while about one in 24 Americans has a serious mental illness. In other words, pick 24 people you know. One of them might be getting treatment for a serious disorder.
They’re not going to tell you, though. They’re especially not going to tell you when you go on about the Parkland shooter and how his mental health problems were soo freaking obvious. They’re definitely not going to tell you if you start talking about anything that might get them locked up for no reason. It’s a sign that an honest discussion isn’t possible, and a cause for genuine concern.
Why this is important.
Mental illness isn’t the root of all tragedy in life. Some people suffer quietly, while others are coping with whatever ails them. It affects people uniquely. And it doesn’t always mean that a person is a danger to anyone.
Mentally ill people can and frequently do find ways to cope with their disorders and function in life. Blaming them for random stuff is like blaming the weather on sky wizards and rainbow unicorns. People are free to do it, just don’t be surprised if others look at you funny.