Mental Health is not to Blame
By Lucie Kavanagh
“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun”
– Donald Trump
The above quote was said last year in response to the El Paso shooting in which 23 people lost their lives. In response to the apparent determination to look no further than mental illness combined with violent video games, a hashtag started on Twitter: #MentalHealthIsNotToBlame which saw people laying bare their diagnosis and trauma histories in order to show the world that mental illness does not equal propensity to violence.
This was mine:
My name is Lucie. I have diagnosis’ of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, Depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. That’s a lot of disorder floating about in my head…but I live my life and I have never felt compelled to hurt another person.
There’s no denying that anyone who decides to orchestrate a mass killing probably isn’t in a very healthy frame of mind. But that’s not the same as mental illness. With such assumptions, a population of people becomes labelled as “wrong”, “bad” and “other”. Separating from the flock. Singling out. Dynamics that happen in many unhealthy and abusive relationships.
If we look at statistics, rather than be the instigator, a person with a mental illness is over ten times more likely to be a victim of crime than the general population and only about 3-5% of violent crimes can be attributed to people with mental illnesses-(this doesn’t take additional factors into account such as substance abuse, background or individual circumstances.)
But statistics can often get in the way of a good story, or indeed, a handy reasoning.
Stigma is a sly, sneaky thing. On the surface we are more accepting, more open and more tolerant of difference and the world around us. But the undercurrent can swell up just when we get lured into thinking it’s all good. Sometimes, it’s anything but.
Every condition, physical or mental, is a spectrum and how we experience it can be very much based on who we are and where we are in life. Any two of us could suffer with a relatively straightforward illness like the common cold and experience it differently.
Mental illnesses get stereotyped, often as a result of ignorance and fear, and these stereotypes become terms of ridicule and abuse. In three separate articles in the last year I have seen personality disorders being used as a term of abuse, all by well-regarded writers. I routinely see the names of conditions such as OCD and Bipolar used in memes and jokes (to refer to often false stereotypes of those conditions such as cleanliness and a need for order in the case of OCD).
Sometimes when I notice these things, I think that it’s my own sensitivity and maybe I should let it go. But then I remember how afraid I was to reveal my diagnosis of EUPD to anyone, most especially anyone close to me, because of the stigma attached. I think about when I disclosed it at work and one of the first comments I received back was:
“We’ve googled it and it’s not pretty.”
Because of words like that that are impossible to forget, I think it’s important to keep calling out the murky undercurrents when we see them, no matter what the issue or context. Stigma attaches itself to many, many walks of life. Challenging it is a direct message to all those in the world today who want to single out any group or population who they perceive as scapegoats because of poverty, skin colour, country of origin, ethnic background, illness or disability.
Every diagnosis is reality for a population of people. Every person in that population is an individual who experiences it in their own unique way based on genetic and environmental factors that make up who they are.
Every country and community in the world has mental illness in it. Not every country and community has mass killings. Those who do deserve more than these lazy fabrications based on fear and hate.
“…and when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful.”
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following