It seems that two phrases keep popping up everywhere following Friday's massacre — gun control, and mental illness. Across the country, people are demanding we examine our gun laws (yes! we must!) and pleading for some sort of something to help those who are mentally ill.
A lot has been made of the gunman's mental status. That's the way it usually is following these mass tragedies we humans inflict upon one another. In our hurt, scared minds, we try desperately to figure out WHY a person could do such a thing. He must be mentally ill, we say. There's got to be something wrong with him.
I'm not arguing with that. Actually, I strongly believe that any person who purposefully harms another creature (human, animal, whatever) has something wrong in his or her brain, regardless of whether or not that person has a diagnosis.
What makes me sad is that the only times we really bring up the topic of mental illness on a national scale is most often following a tragedy. Yes, that's absolutely a good time to talk about it, because honestly? The system we have in our country to assist people with mental illnesses is shitty, underfunded, and inherently stigmatized. We DO need to change these things.
But these things only shed light on the relatively small percentage of people with mental illnesses who commit large acts of terror. We talk of destigmatizing the name of mental illness, and encouraging people to seek help if they need it. But by continuing to only show examples of the sickest among us who do terrible things as poster children of mental illness, we are contributing to said stigma.
Mental illness comes in a range of symptoms, behaviors, and diagnoses. People like the gunman are on a very, very sick, extreme part of that spectrum, and they certainly do not represent everyone with diagnoses of schizophrenia, or manic depression, or severe anxiety disorders. There are hundreds of thousands of people with various diagnoses of mental illnesses who walk among us and function well in every day society.
Who are those people? Well, me, for starters. My diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and bulimia land me squarely in the "mental illness" category. And my best friend. What about you? Your friends? Your co-workers?
I vote that we begin the discussion of destigmatizing and overhauling the mental health system in our country by highlighting people who have been helped by medication and therapy and other forms of treatment. People who are just as sick as a gunman, but who by the grace of god have had access to care and support and who are able to live relatively stable lives. The Bloggess comes to mind. (You guys know how much I respect and am grateful for her presence on the internet.)
If we highlight the good that can come from treatment, and the glorious, beautiful lives people can lead (again, I'm thinking of The Bloggess) with their mental illnesses, perhaps then we can start to remove the stigma. We can change how we equate people with mental illnesses = GUNMAN to people with mental illnesses = JENNY LAWSON (The Bloggess. Because who else would I talk about). Or people with mental illnesses = other cool awesome people who lead pretty fucking amazing lives with/despite/because of/in spite of their diagnoses. Because that means that a diagnosis is nothing to shy away from, and if we're not ashamed of saying we have mental illnesses it's a hell of a lot easier for us to accept treatment.
I'm not one for math, but that seems pretty simple, right? Now. Let's start talking.
Note: I am purposefully not using the gunman's name. He does not deserve that attention. If we remember any names from this awful situation, let it be those of the victims and their families.