Let me start off by stating four quick points:
- What happened in Newtown, Connecticut was a tragedy.
- The following view is not to discuss why? how? who is to blame or gun control.
- The following post uses facts and intellect rather than blanket statements and accusations.
- It is written by a well-educated adult whose career and education serves as a platform to form the following viewpoint.
I'd ban ALL guns for convicted criminals and ANYONE with ANY mental health history whatsoever.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) December 14, 2012
Along with this tweet, after finding out the news I found myself with a whole slew of people stating the shooter "must be mentally ill/sick/psychotic," and a guesses of his diagnosis from laymen as well as some news casters, as well as Piers Morgan, who tweeted the above tweet to his nearly 3 million followers.
So are those with mental illness more dangerous than those without? Are those with mental illness more violent?
The answer may seem obvious to the general public, given the popularity of movies, TV shows and books in which mentally unbalanced individuals are portrayed as homicidal maniacs. Three-quarters of Americans view mentally ill people as dangerous, according to a 1999 study in the American Journal of Public Health. Another 1999 study from the same journal found that 60% of Americans believed patients with schizophrenia — a condition characterized by disordered thought processes, paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations — were likely to commit violent acts.But while the data show that people with certain psychiatric problems do commit violent crimes at a higher rate than those who are seemingly healthy, the vast majority of homicides, arsons and assaults are perpetrated by people who are not considered severely mentally ill.What's more, other factors, such as unemployment, divorce in the last year and a history of physical abuse, are better predictors of violent behavior than a diagnosis of schizophrenia, according to a 2009 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
So simple, the big question is solved, now let's look at the negative impact this lie-telling and guessing game causes:
The discrimination and stigma associated with mental illnesses stem in part, from the link between mental illness and violence in the minds of the general public (DHHS, 1999, Corrigan, et al., 2002). The effects of stigma and discrimination are profound. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders - especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment (New Freedom Commission, 2003).” (source)
So telling lies, jumping to conclusions and assuming violence is perpetrated in increasing numbers by those whom are mentally ill, hurt those who are mentally ill creating this ongoing stigma that mental illness equals danger. So why does the general population think those with mental illness are dangerous?
"Characters in prime time television portrayed as having a mental illness are depicted as the most dangerous of all demographic groups: 60 percent were shown to be involved in crime or violence" (Mental Health American, 1999). "Most news accounts portray people with mental illness as dangerous" (Wahl, 1995). "The vast majority of news stories on mental illness either focus on other negative characteristics related to people with the disorder (e.g., unpredictability and unsociability) or on medical treatments. Notably absent are positive stories that highlight recovery of many persons with even the most serious of mental illnesses" (Wahl, et al., 2002). (source)
How can those in the public eye become honest with their viewers instead of perpetuating lies and stereotypes?
Choose your words wisely: Learn about the impact your words can have on those with mental illnesses. Words are very powerful.
- When we say someone is "crazy" or "that's totally mental" we're perpetuating stereotypes.
- Avoid the verb "suffers" when discussing mental illness. Instead, choose, "lives with mental illness" or "is affected by mental illness."
- Use "person first" vocabulary. When we say a person is schizophrenic, we make their mental illness fully define their identity. Instead, be clear that this is a disease that individuals manage and live with -- "He is living with schizophrenia."
- There are many phrases and terms; "crazy," "nuts", "psycho", "schiz", "retard" and "lunatic" that may seem insignificant, but really aren't.
- While there may be times when it is too challenging or simply not possible to politely correct someone else's insensitive use of language, you can always watch your own. (source)
How can those with mental illness begin changing the stereotype of mental illness? Bring Change to Mind is an organization started by Glen Close, who's sister has Bipolar Disorder and nephew Schizoaffective about changing the stigma. Here are the 6 ways to help: Take the Pledge, sharing your story, spread the word, donate, download the toolkit (which has helpful handouts regarding awareness), walk to raise awareness (source)
So what can we do now to begin healing, newscasters, talking heads, normal people, heck even Piers Morgan could use a hug right now? Susan Pivers is a Buddhist Public Speaker whose work focuses on meditation and self-awareness. She wrote this wonderful piece including a meditation for this incident (source)
Lastly I want to end with this quote from Fred Rogers, better known as Ms. Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers