Rampant in the news over the past several years are reports about gun violence and mass shootings across this country. This of course is a huge tragedy. Unfortunately, mental illness is making the headlines too.
When a person commits a crime, there is almost always a mental health background check. There isn’t a heart background check. Or a lung background check. There isn’t even a brain background check.
People are just ill-informed. Even at the highest levels. The focus on mental illness as the principal culprit behind gun violence is not only without merit, it is discrimination.
Misconceptions about mental illness exist. This is called “stigma.” Mental health stigma comes from stereotypes, which are generalized beliefs of a group of people. For example, individuals with mental illness are often viewed as being dangerous.
People living with mental illness are generally no more likely to be violent than someone who does not have a mental illness. And people who are living with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to perpetrate violence.
I was half listening to the news one day when I heard one of the shooters referred to as a “deranged lunatic.” These words were hurtful to me. As a person with lived experience of mental illness, in recovery, I certainly don’t feel deranged, and I am certainly not a lunatic. Last time I checked we are living in the 21st Century.
As mental health advocates representing The Gathering Place organization, we work hard to end the stigma that is prevalent in society. And it is not easy. We face archaic words like “deranged lunatic.” These kinds of words can create self-stigma and keep someone from seeking help.
Mental illness is a biological disorder that affects an organ of the body, the brain. It is often referred to as a “chemical imbalance.” Mental health conditions are treatable disorders. Simply put, medication works by targeting certain chemicals in the brain.
At The Gathering Place, and even outside of The Gathering Place, we would like to be perceived as people who have overcome challenges. We are resilient. We may have been diagnosed, but we are not our diagnosis.
It never seems to end. We move one step forward and then it is two steps back. Let’s keep stepping in the right direction!
—By Susan C. Mader, MSSW, CPS