As I watched news reports on the recent mass shootings in America, I found that the frequency of these attacks didn't shock me as much as it once did (an unfortunate case of desensitization that I'm sure isn't just my own) but more so the continuous mention of mental illness in regards to the shooters. To be clear it's not the fact that they have a mental illness that upsets me (no stable person decides to go on a murder spree) but it’s the fact that the mental illness is being portrayed as the villain who caused the tragedy rather than the actual person holding the gun.
Saying that all people with mental illnesses are dangerous is along the same line as saying that all Muslims are terrorists, all women are whores, etc. It drafts from a single ignorant assumption and generalization that damages and disrupts the entire community of innocent people. For example, not everyone with schizophrenia is a psychopath, nor are people with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. What the news stories neglect to mention is that mental illness can be controlled with the right support, therapy and medication if needed. There is already a damaging stigma against those with mental illness, no one needs to be labelled as a potential mass murderer as well.
On top of this, some of the accused and their defence lawyers tend to use mental illness as a supporting document for 'get out of jail free cards' or to decrease jail sentences. Let me be clear when I say, mental illness or no, there is no excuse for violence of any kind. Mental health, although very difficult to live with, is not an excuse to hurt people in any way shape or form. It is excuses like this that only further the stigma against kind and hardworking people with mental illness who are attempting to live as normal a life as possible.
What is refreshing is that the media is showing young people directly and indirectly affected by the recent Florida tragedy fighting for reforms and a safer nation. I cannot imagine what those young people are going through in regards to trauma, grief and potentially survivors guilt and PTSD and yet they are using their hardships as fuel to drive towards change and awareness. This is what people with mental illness should be viewed as: brave people who work bravely work through their struggles every single day instead of unstable psychos that can snap at any minute.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CLAIRE L. SMITH is an Australian author, poet, artist and activist. A childhood of depression, anxiety and domestic abuse inspired her to join Teen Talk Hotline in February 2018. You can find her on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM.