LEFT: Logo of the "Coming Out Proud" program developed by Buchholz & Corrigan. RIGHT:Each Mind Matters is a California Mental Health Services Authority program working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities.

Dear Mr. Parker: Please stop referring to us as “crazy,” and conflating “mental illness” with violence; Dear Media: Please stop letting everyone you interview get away with this

The first recorded use of “crazy” appears to be in 1576:

“A. Fleming tr. Cicero in Panoplie Epist. 4 Remove not from the place where you be, sithence you are weake and crasie.3

In other words: Keep us locked away, and don’t let us out in public. Segregate us. Which is pretty much the general view today – even though these views are disguised by euphemisms.

(There’s probably a lot of fascinating, additional etymology behind the derivation of the word “crazy,” but unfortunately I have neither the time nor space, currently, to dig into it.)

I’m really, really tired of being referred to with slurs, without anybody objecting. I’m really tired of the public at large and the media conflating gun violence with mental illness, when such conflation is not based on facts.

You know what? The “mentally ill” don’t kill people. People kill people. Gun violence is not about our mental health system – although I will be the first to say this system clearly needs improvement. No, I believe the escalating acts of mass, public violence is about the increasing gap between the rich and the poor; it’s about more and more people feeling disenfranchised or less-than, in a nation where consumerism is the state religion and “success” is measured by standards few can achieve; it’s about racism and classism; it’s about how hard it is to simply get by. It’s about the fact we live in a “democracy” that’s a virtual autocracy, a land filled with desperate people.

American violence is about people who feel powerless because we’re living in a nation in spiritual and cultural crisis, where social injustice is the nation’s defining characteristic, values have vanished, prejudice of all sort is rampant, and heritage a foreign concept. A place where a large number of citizens feel powerless to change their circumstances or how people view them; the powerlessness builds, one’s lack of agency becomes brutally apparent, and sometimes a proverbial straw tips a struggling person over the edge – he or she commits violence to be heard, to have some personal justice, to exert some control and agency in a world in which he or she has none.

I don’t condone violence for any of the above reasons. Whether your life is fucked or not – it never justifies killing somebody. But it’s an outright falsehood to, over and over, implicate mental illness each time a public shooting takes place. Mentally ill people don’t kill people. People kill people. Period.

How about this: let’s stop calling people who commit acts of public or mass violence “mentally ill” or “terrorists,” or “Islamist extremists,” or whatever, and just call them what they are: Bad people. Criminals. Immoral. Or, sometimes, struggling or disturbed people who, in a period where they’ve been pushed to the extreme, resort to an evil which is never justified, regardless of the underlying motives, nor the interior or external, socio-economic circumstances they may be victim of.

The irony is us “mentally ill” are far more likely to direct violence toward ourselves than others. Everyone once in a great while these public shootings are committed by someone delusional, someone profoundly, mentally disturbed. But this is the exception, not the rule.

I am all for reforming gun policy. In fact I am extremely anti-second amendment. But I don’t think it’s just the “mentally ill” who should be barred the right of bearing arms, or at the least, severely restricted. I think it’s everyone.

The reason I get so inflamed about how nobody is ever called out about the discourse surrounding the mentally ill, is that this discourse exacerbates the prejudice we already experience as one of the most heavily stigmatized, invisible minority groups in the United States today4. These aren’t just the uninformed rants of someone who happens to be “mentally ill.” I studied issues like this in grad school, and can back up my statements with research.

Social worker Palmer Reg Orovwuje and psychologist A.J.W. Taylor (2006)5, who have conducted some of that research, wrote:

“People suffering from mental disability and mental illness are among the most disadvantaged groups in society. They suffer severe personal distress, and they are stigmatized, discriminated against, marginalized, and often left vulnerable. They are denied civil, political, and social rights, and are treated less than fairly in legal procedures, clinical practice, and institutional management… The yearnings of people with mental illness to be recognized as full citizens able to enjoy the same rights as other citizens has yet to be satisfied.”

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One comment

  1. Thank you thank you thank you Jeanene. I guess also the public is unaware of how we “catch” said “illnesses.” You catch a cold by sitting in a library or on a bus or in a movie theater and allow yourself to get sneezed on. If you are sneezed on badly enough, you’ll have a cold for a week. How do you get a so-called mental illness? You show up at a shrink’s office or one evaluates you. Period. That dx will be on your record for life. I have personally seen, in programs and institutions, people change their behavior to fit whatever diagnosis they were given. Even if they aren’t aware of the ugly, insulting names they give us (schiz, bipolar, etc), these patients are treated with certain expectations, and that determines their fate. How long does a shrink spend diagnosing? Well? I’ve even seen them diagnose based on one or two sentences written online. “You sound like you have a personality disorder/OCD/bipolar/etc.” WTF? The average ER interview by a shrink lasts only a few minutes, then, that first impression is passed on in the person’s medical records forever. That’s how you catch a make-believe “illness.” I’ve never met someone with one, not really. I’ve met one helluva lot of people I’d call “misunderstood.” I wish humans would be more accepting of a variety of approaches to life, rather than the increasingly narrow view of sanity that seems to be prevalent in developed countries.

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