This is NOT the time to talk about mental illness.
Not now, while the nation is still reeling from the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut. Not while so many are sad and angry and confused and desperate for someone, besides the shooter, to blame. Deprived by the shooter’s suicide of the opportunity for a public trial and sentence, they cast around for a scapegoat.
I am so afraid right now. Not of another mass shooting–I’m afraid of the backlash, the witch-hunt.
I’m afraid for all the kids and young adults who have violent temper tantrums or say bizarre things at inappropriate times, or who’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s or schizophrenia or whatever the “experts” are now saying the killer had. I’m afraid that they’ll be ostracized and bullied even more than they already are. That teachers will refuse to have them in their classes. Or, worst of all, that their own parents will reject them. Like the woman who (TRIGGER WARNING FOR EMOTIONAL ABUSE) told the world on national TV that she thinks her 13-year-old son is the next Adam Lanza. How can any child hear his mother say this about him and not be heartbroken? And the praises, the kudos she got for it…I wonder how many other parents are out there who are listening to this and deciding that yes, maybe they should lock their kid up in an psych ward or a “residential program”…how many kids who are already victims of trauma will be traumatized further by being sent to places where the staff can put them in restraints for hours, forcibly drug them, even forcibly shock them if they don’t behave…and how many kids will be left with the message that they are just too monstrous to be loved. Every time I see someone use “mentally ill” as a synonym for someone capable of the horrifying murders Adam Lanza did, I feel sick to my stomach with fear for these kids.
I’ve read so much writing about how people with “severe mental illness” needs to be locked up for everyone’s safety. I pray every day that this is all just internet posturing, that it won’t lead to any changes in public policy. I don’t want to see many innocents punished for one man’s crimes. But I’m afraid because it’s happened before. The internment camps for Japanese-Americans during WWII. The wave of hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians after September 11th. Kendra’s Law.
It’s a form of mass hysteria that “normal” people are often prone to.
And then you have the more civilized-sounding ones, who see the Newtown school massacre as an opportunity to have a real conversation about the lack of mental health services in this country and isn’t it a shame how so many are falling through the cracks unable to get the treatment they need. Usually they’ll even add something about how sad it is that “stigma” is also preventing them from getting help. But mental health isn’t a problem that can be solved just by throwing money at it–the people suffering from it need to be treated with respect and dignity in order to heal, something that’s hard to square with the attitude that they’re all ticking time bombs. And by starting the “conversation” about mental health in the context of a “conversation” about the motives of a mass murderer, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Where do they think the stigma comes from, if not this?
So, now is not the time to start talking about mental illness. Or if we do, it should only be to repeat the following facts, over and over until everybody finally gets it: