Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stigmatizing Mental Illness

Pro-gun supporters disproportionately blame mental illness for tragedies

After mass shootings people always endeavor to figure out the base cause of gun violence in the United States. Conservatives—and moderates who want to appeal to conservatives—scramble to formulate any possible explanation for gun violence that absolves the guns themselves of any blame. It’s violent video games! Or maybe it’s violent movies! Or no, you know what, it’s definitely mental health issues.
Millions of people play violent video games every day and do not act on what happens in those games. I’ve played Halo,Call of DutyGrand Theft AutoThe Last of Us and several other shooting games. I’ve probably killed over one hundred thousand virtual people. Does that translate into real life violence? Well I’ve only punched one person—my brother. How many actual people have I killed? None.
Millions of people have mental health issues and never commit violent acts. I’m bipolar. I get manic, where I don’t sleep for days, can’t keep my mind focused on one thing for more than a minute and feel so confident and happy that I think I can do anything. I get depressed, where I feel like I don’t belong anywhere, can hardly get out of bed and when I do, it’s usually just to find a dark corner of my apartment and sit there for hours at a time. I get angry, where the smallest perceived slight makes me want to put my fist through a wall. But I have never hurt anyone and I never will.Millions of people watch violent movies every day and never act on what they see in those films. I’ve seen The Godfather,Smokin’ AcesA Clockwork OrangeGoodfellasKill Bill,Inglorious Basterds and dozens of other movies which depict ungodly levels of violence. Does that make me a violent person? Well I’ve never maimed anybody and I still haven’t killed anybody.
Blaming video games and movies for mass shooting—or really crime in general—is stupid but ultimately harmless. But putting increased stigma on mental health issues is actually damaging. When the media thrust the brunt of blame for violence on mental health disorders or people who have them, or think they might, are discouraged from seeking care. Who would want to admit that he or she has a mental disorder, even if he or she is a high-functioning schizophrenic, when the poster children for mental disorders right now are Jared Loughner and James Holmes?
Mental disorders are receiving far too much blame for mass shootings. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 26 percent of Americans have a diagnosable mental disorder. That’s a pretty high number, one in four. But the General Social Survey, conducted by the University of Chicago, found that around 30 percent of American homes contain guns. More Americans have guns than mental health disorders, but some believe that guns have nothing to do with gun violence while mental disorders have everything to do with it.
It is a fantasy to suggest that guns have nothing to do with gun violence, but unfortunately that fantasy world is highly populated right now. We need to be having the right debate, but one side puts all the blame on guns and the other puts most of the blame on mental health disorders. If that one side is so worried about mental health disorders, maybe they should stop the senseless sequester.

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