This post was inspired by Autistic Hoya’s blog post, here is an excerpt:
Those who report the news have a duty to report the facts, to make every effort to educate themselves about the dangers of misrepresentation, and to represent the subjects of their writing fairly. Until our journalists learn that their language can have significant and severe repercussions for the lives of the people whom their language maligns and misrepresents, we will continue to face attitudinal barriers across all spheres of society that have been reinforced by the imagery and language used to describe us and construct perceptions of who we are and what our disability means. We will continue to suffer the consequences of dangerous words. The Dangers of Misrepresentation- Autistic Hoya
Like AH, I also cringe every time someone who commits a crime is labeled with autism, a mental illness, etc. For me of particular concern is bipolar disorder, as I am bipolar. It seems like every time this happens, its sets us back. Yes, some people with mental illness do commit crimes, people without mental illness commit crimes. But the majority of people with mental illness do not commit crimes, just as the majority of people without mental illness do not commit crimes. For me it is comparable to when there is something that is a terrorist “act”, if a person is Muslim their religion is mentioned left and right. However, when the person is not Muslim we rarely hear what religion they are. For example (Man Crashes Plant into Texas I.R.S.), in this particular incident no where is this man’s religion mentioned, and his act isn’t even called terrorism, when it is quite plainly an act of domestic terrorism.
Every time a person who has committed a crime is labeled with a mental illness, all of the worst aspects of the mental illness are listed in the description. And those who don’t know a lot about mental illness are given just that bit of information, without a responsible mention by the journalist that “most people with “mental illness A” are not like this. The stigma surrounding mental illness increases, and more people are less likely to say, I have “mental illness A”, more people are less likely to seek treatment, and more people needlessly suffer. Most mental illnesses can be helped either with medication or therapy or a combination of the two. But the more the media stigmatizes mental illness the less likely people are to seek out treatment.
We need to strive as a society to get correct information out to everyone. The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be lessened. We need to be open and honest about people who live with mental illness each and every day. I am bipolar, I live with it every day. I live in a house, I have a husband, I have a daughter. I enjoy reading, cross-stitch. I have other health issues. I take medication and go to therapy, I find this combination works very well for me. I go shopping and I love to cook. With the percentages of adults and children who have a mental illness (“1 in 4 adults or 57.7 million Americans and 1 in 10 children”, Mental Illness: Facts and Numbers) chances are you know, live near, or work with someone who has or had a mental illness at some point in their lives. Perhaps the stigma kept them from telling you, or maybe they knew you well enough to tell you. But every time I share this information, unless I know the person well, I worry. I worry about their reaction, I worry about the stigma, and I worry about the misinformation they may have been fed by the media. But I also hope, I hope that I might educate, that I might correct any misinformation they might have, and that I might make a new friend, a new ally who can go out and spread some more correct information. In my own little way, maybe I can lessen the stigma that exists out there.
Mental illnesses are biologically based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence. Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.– NAMI.org