Mental Health Issues Misunderstood

Mainstream media’s portrayal derails rehabilitation

Jesse Bowman Columnist
Jesse Bowman

Last Tuesday a shooting occurred at Emerald Park in Eugene, leaving two men dead — one of whom was the shooter — and one severely injured. The shooter has been identified as a former Army veteran, and police have begun to investigate the reasons as to why this shooting occurred.

According to the veteran’s neighbor, the man had severe PTSD, and police confirmed that he had legal troubles since his return from the serving three tours in Iraq. These legal troubles included two counts of unlawful abuse of a firearm ranging back from August 2015.

Found in his home dead from what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the former Army veteran has shaken up the local community with everyone asking why such a horrific event could occur — looking for something or someone to place blame on.

Some will question his background, some will question his religion, but many will be too quick to over-simplify their judgements about mental illness.

Mental illness is a source of contention between scientists and mainstream media. One side has the ability to conduct extensive research in order to understand the complexities of the human psyche and reactions to its environment. The other pushes easy-to-believe, harmful propaganda that demonizes issues rather than attempting to fully understand them.

A massively common misconception about mental health illness and disorders such as PTSD, Schizophrenia and Bi-polarism is that they are directly related to violence, and people with these conditions are volatile cocktails waiting to explode. This belief is not the case.

According to scientists all over the globe, mental disorders such as PTSD, schizophrenia and bi-polarism are not nearly as violent as they are portrayed in everyday media.

“It is undeniable that persons who have shown violent tendencies should not have access to weapons that could be used to harm themselves or others,” Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, said. “However, notions that mental illness caused any particular shooting, or that advance psychiatric attention might prevent these crimes, are more complicated than they often seem.”

The news media in every form relishes in the idea of jumping on a story that will immediately grab audiences. It’s hard to blame them for that. It is the goal of media to get the word out to as many people as possible — but what if that word is completely misleading, harmful or flat-out wrong?

The real danger at play is the stigma associated with mental illness. Mass shootings and violent crimes happen — but when the blame is shifted to the mental illness of an individual, instead of taking all factors into account, it results in the demonization of a massive amount of people who are combating disorders that are not violent in almost all cases.

A study released by Jeffrey Swanson and three other prominent psychiatric and psychological scientists stated “Epidemiologic studies show that the large majority of people with serious mental illnesses are never violent.” Often, people who have serious mental illnesses are more likely to be the victim of a violent attack rather than the aggressor. The study shows that association with gun violence and mentally ill people is the result of suicide.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. These people are having to exist in a world that has developed shallow, demonizing labels in a form of pseudo-bullying that claims their “kind” are responsible for mass shootings, deaths and tragedy that a majority of us would never think to commit in the first place.

Every time the news and social media portray mental disorders as violent, unpredictable and dangerous it becomes a counterproductive measure to rehabilitation and further postpones our understanding on how to treat these disorders. If the community does not attempt to become more educated, the stigma on mental illness will continue to jeopardize the treatment of those suffering.

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Jesse Bowman