The Media and Mental Illness
The state of the world right now is hard to explain, let alone contemplate. These attacks often associated with individuals who have lived with mental illness, only end conversations and create more uneducated stigma. They can also very easily impact people living with mental illness.
When you receive a diagnosis, it can be both liberating and stigmatizing. A diagnosis can guide you to treatments that change your life, but it also is like a badge you wear. And for some people, the badge of mental illness creates judgment and fear.
Recently, Psych Central reviewed research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. The study reviewed news articles about mental health over a 20-year-period. They found nearly 40 percent of all news stories about mental illness report a person with mental illness committing violence towards other people. This translates into a belief that many people with mental illness are violent or potentially violent.
The reality is that most people who live with mental illnesses just want to get better and live their lives. They want to raise families and be at peace, but sometimes they can’t because of the war in their heads and in their emotions.
And they have to fight the stigma that believes if you have a mental illness, you are a killer. Initial reports stated that the recent Orlando nightclub attack was motivated by radicalization. Reports have also cited his apparent mental illness. What seems apparent is that there is no one cause. If he had a mental illness, it is doubtful that one factor would have motivated him to attack the nightclub. For most people who have a mental illness, their illness is internalizing (causing them to ruminate and look inwards too much) rather than externalizing (causing them to look outside and blame others). An imbalance does not equate to murder. Conversation needs to exist to educate those who are unaware that people with mental illness are not imbalanced and ready to explode.
The findings of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg research showed that:
The most frequent topic in the articles was violence, in 55% of the articles.
38 percent mentioned violence occurring against others
29 percent linked mental illness with suicide
47 percent of the articles mentioned treatment
14 percent of the time the treatment was successful and recovery occurred.
Stories of individuals and families getting the help they needed unfortunately rarely make the news. “Stories about successful treatment have the potential to decrease stigma and provide a counter-image to depictions of violence, but there are not that many of these types of narratives depicted in the news media,” Dr. McGinty said in the PsychCentral piece.
My point is, mass terror attacks or mass murders are rarely motivated purely because of a mental illness. In reality, mental illness is rarely the reason for violence. The media’s search for reasons will inevitably find some mental illness because, for many of us, we will experience a mental illness in our lifetime.
But it won’t make you violent. A mental illness is not a violence-virus. It is a condition you live with, cope with and strive to overcome.