Op Ed August 8, 2019 – by Peter Evers
We talk a great deal about words that we use to describe mental illness. There has been a significant move toward progress here. Media outlets have been mindful of how they report on suicide; there are protocols that help them get the news out without contributing to the contagion factor associated with suicide clusters. In short, as a culture we are getting better at dialing down stigmatizing words, recognizing the pain that can be caused by careless and hurtful use of the language. Quietly, we give ourselves credit for the advancements that we make. Public campaigns like Change Direction reach thousands of people and they are able to tell their stories, often for the first time, and feel that they are no longer alone.
Then it happens again and again. Mental illness is used as a reason for mass shootings. Mental illness gets attention from politicians who have otherwise eschewed the need for funding to address the real diagnoses and the real pain that fellow human beings struggle with when they are really mentally ill. Why, some of them actually use the language that we have fought so hard to eradicate: “monsters,” “crazy” and recently “mental illness pulled the trigger.”
So it is convenient to blame this amorphous thing called mental illness for everything wrong in society. It comes from the top, really, when a leader of a culture begins to dehumanize whole sections of our society, stirring up hatred against groups of people with a different skin color, laughing at his rally when someone suggests that people fleeing persecution should be shot. Blaming everything but his own words for the violence that he has roiled whether it be an undefined mental illness, video games that are violent or a small group of people outside the mainstream. Convenient, indeed, yet all over the world mental illness exists in all cultures and so do video games, last time I checked, and the mass shooting numbers are a blip on the landscape of horror and crime everywhere but here. Gun laws are a part of the informed debate about public safety. People also own guns elsewhere. People in those countries remember the last mass shooting because it is such a rare occurrence and it was probably 20 years ago.
As we go about our business today, I hope we can use language in a responsible way. I hope that we don’t use words to belittle a group of people. I hope we reject the racism that is a projectile for hate, and I hope we make some changes because as an immigrant the reason I came here was clear: an open, welcoming country that gave everyone a chance. Let’s press reset and return to those wonderful values.
Peter Evers is the Chief Executive Officer of Riverbend Community Mental Health.