The Way Media Portrays Mental Illness Prolongs Stigma

So it has happened again, unfortunately. Another shooting at Ft. Hood. I am deeply sorry to the families of everyone involved. Everyone.

The first thing the military does is pull their trump card. He was being treated for depression and anxiety, and according to one source, other mental health issues. Another source came right out and said it, that he was being tested for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after spending time in Iraq. At least someone named something a straight line could be drawn to from the military. Of course, he had not yet been diagnosed, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he did have PTSD. The number of troops coming home with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, among other things, is high.

But, the military quickly rebuts, he had depression and anxiety. If Lt. Gen. Mark Milley of Ft. Hood was aware of just how many people do have that diagnosis, he might think (at least to himself) again before pointing the finger at mental illness. Was the soldier who committed the shooting, who was in Iraq but supposedly saw no action, yet who thought he had a traumatic brain injury, put in one of the Army Wounded Transition Units upon his return? His TBI was self-diagnosed, and granted I have more experience with this kind of thing, but I would have thought his self-diagnosis of a TBI was his way, the only way, he knew how to say he was having mental problems without “stigmatizing” himself. Being wounded is one thing, confessing to mental problems is another, one that the military doesn’t deal very well with, but they’re going to have to, because of the number of military personnel having these issues.

And one thing that is never really mentioned is that he may never have actually seen action, but he was sent over with the expectation he would, I’m guessing, unless he was was part of some unit who had a specialized unit, and even then, you’re not going to escape the realities of what the situation was there. You are sent over primed to kill. When you come back, are you unprimed? There may be a process for this, I’m fairly ignorant of the procedures. but once that is in you, as an instinct, it must be extremely difficult to get rid of. I sort of imagine their response to, “How are you,” is a little like the one below.

The really sad thing is that no one will know what type of man he was, that’s not what he’ll be remembered as. Not what kind of husband or father he was. No one thinks about that, either. His widow and children have been stigmatized by association. His widow will be interviewed by the investigators, his home searched, and they’ll “examine whether his combat experience caused lingering psychological trauma,” according to an article from USA Today. Do you think so? Lingering psychological trauma not being treated in one of the four special units he should have been assigned to.

Part of what continues the stigma against mental illness are incidences such as this, where the first statement out of anyone’s mouth implies “he shot and killed those people because he had a mental illness.” That is simply not true. The number of people who have mental illness is simply so high, along with the predisposition for weapons in society, it’s inevitable the two should meet.

Despite the fact this happens, let me just say this once

MENTAL ILLNESS SHOULD NOT BE A STIGMA

MENTAL ILLNESS IS AN INVISIBLE DISABILITY

MENTAL ILLNESS DOES NOT MAKE US INTRINSICALLY DIFFERENT

MENTAL ILLNESS DOES NOT MAKE US INTRINSICALLY DANGEROUS

What it can do, if we let it, is:

  • Lower our self-esteem
  • Lower our confidence in ourselves
  • Make us extremely sensitive to offhand remarks
  • Make us extremely sensitive to criticism
  • Make it extremely difficult if not impossible to attend social functions
  • Isolate ourselves from others
  • Make us socially awkward
  • Numerous other things

And then there are other people who can get along just fine, outwardly, with a facade so perfect you would never guess. That’s why it’s an invisible disability. It’s not obvious, like a physical disability. You can’t see it, It’s not actually real, is it? C’mon, you’re having me on! There’s nothing wrong with you, you look fine. Yes, I may look fine, I may sound fine, I may be sitting here at this moment with you looking perfectly fine. Do you know what fine stands for? F’d up, Insecure, Neurotic, Empty. It’s easier to say “fine” than to tell you how I really feel, because you actually don’t really want to know.

Because there’s a stigma attached to me. For people who know I have severe depression and an anxiety disorder, among other things, who aren’t very closely acquainted to me, they may wonder, what’s she capable of? She seems so nice. She makes teddy bears. She a writer, but not a very successful one…oh, no one bring that up, that might set her off. She was talking about that movie, Dead Again, the other day, and how much she liked it. Someone go through her area and take away all her scissors when she’s at lunch and give her kiddie scissors instead…

Now, all of the above is purely hypothetical, since I’m working at home now (working is a dubious term) — I finally have everything I need to start (including an awful lot of pairs of scissors), so really, that is a moot point now. But when I was at work, I was honest about my depression and anxiety. I thought if I was open about it, I could help break down some of the stigma. I was incredibly wrong about that. Sadly, for an organization that worked with children with disabilities, they didn’t do well with employees with disabilities. How’s work? Fine.

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