Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To be a victim is to be adversely affected by a force or agent. When an individual is victimized by someone with mental illness, society views the offender as 100% evil. Honestly, I can understand the abrupt judgment, but isn't mental illness a force out of one's power? This would make the criminal (in this case) a victim. So here are a few reasons why we as a society can not clearly make this distinction:

1. We do not educate the public about mental illness.
2. The media jumps at the chance to sensationalize any criminal act made by a person with mental illness
3. The act is viewed as something within the person's control

Here are some FACTS about violence and mental illness that may help society form a more accurate opinion:

1. 95% of all murders are committed by SANE individuals (people who are aware of their actions)
2. 95% of those with a mental disorder have NO HISTORY of violence
3. Individuals with schizophrenia are far more likely to harm themselves than others

Why are these facts kept from the public? Well, the media has one agenda: to shock the public. They know that stories about mental illness and violence have an instant shock value. The result: ignorance and fear. So much damage has been done that it will take years to strip away the stigma. I believe the next generation has a chance to embrace this topic, but for now, I am not so confident that the adult generations will give truth a chance. People tell me that I cannot change everyone's opinion. However, I do think that education/art can inspire empathy.

Propaganda has silenced millions of those trying to recover from a mental disorder. It makes me really sick. Those stories we hear about in the news (i.e. "The Canadian Greyhound Bus Beheading") are all part of the media's agenda to SELL FEAR. I will stop rambling and give you a real life example. I came across a story about the man (Vince Li, who has schizophrenia). He beheaded another man, Tim McLean, on a Greyhound bus. My heart truly goes out to Tim (and his family) for he had to loose his life in such a horrific way. I might want to add that this could have been prevented if Li was medicated. What makes me even sadder is what Li told the police: 

""God told me to do it. Otherwise it would come back to life very quick and kill me. So I cut it up to make sure he couldn't come back to life ... God told me to cut off his head, so I did." After that, with blood smeared on his face from the attack, he politely apologized to police and pleaded with officers to take his life."

I remember one time my brother had told me that if he ever acted out any of the voices commands that we should kill him. This seemed so very terrifying to me because I understood how horrific and real the voices seemed to him. 

Now to the public, this story must seem unbelievable and horrible. But instead of dwelling on the obvious, why can't we deal with the cause and try to prevent it in the future. If we started to eliminate stigma, more individuals might seek treatment. I think the public needs to know what it is like to deal with schizophrenia everyday (recovered or not). I want them to see the adversity these individuals face everyday with their illness/stigma. They need to know what it is like for the family members who witness the pain and suffering. This side of the story is NEVER told and it desperately needs to be. Stigma will continue to thrive as long as propaganda overpowers the truth. 

Here is how the same story was posted on the blog and I included some of the fearful responses (there were SO many to choose from): 

"Remember The Canadian Greyhound Bus Beheading??? The murderer was just found not guilty by reason of insanity! He will be sent to an institution, without serving any jail time, and will be mentally evaluated every year. If and when he is deemed "sane" again, the murderer will be released."

"Rediculous. The laws definitely need to be changed. If someone is mentally unstable and commits crimes, I believe that is EVEN MORE reason to put them behind bars. I believe that they should build a prision or make a section of a prision dedicated to mentally unsound criminals. If someone is "crazy" enough to behead someone and not "realize" they are doing it, they need to stay out of society! PERIOD!!!

"As a Canadian it makes me sick to live in a country were this is ok, As long as you inhabit some form of mental problem (Depression, schizophrenia…) ur actions are not your own.
This idiot was taking meds already and he went off them when the voices told him too and so he goes and kills a kid. now he is being treated in the same way, given a hand full of drugs to keep him hush hush for a while and then release him again !"

"Lock him up in a straight jacket and a muzzle. didn't he eat part of his victim ? SICK!" I agree with you that mental illness is serious but it was his responsibility to get treatment so that this would not happen. Because he did not get treatment, it is now his responsibility for being negligent"

"The crack heads that ride the bus to stay warm are one thing, but those with weapons obviously of the intent to preform a butcher are a different story. By the sounds of what went around shortly after the incident, to the conflicting psychological examinations, this man sounds crazy yes, but he KNEW what he was doing and KNEW that it was wrong… he stabbed this kid that was sleeping! For no reason except he was the closest victim!"

These types of responses are based on fear. What these individuals don't know is that they probably encounter many people with mental illness everyday. They may not know it because they are so used to the fabricated image that the media has created. I apologize for the long post but I would love to hear what you think!


  1. While it does seem appropriate to blame the media because their agenda is not a secret. Get the story first, and make it sell. However, their interpretations are dictated by our culture and values. The press does not create stigma alone, although they can further its frame work, people do. However, they can profit from it as we see in accounts like the one you have shown here. I agree with you totally about the damage of fear mongering, and pandering to the lowest common denominator of intellectual thought and action.

    We can learn from history about how prejudice and hatred were confronted. In the not so distant past, segregation was the norm. It did take The Civil Rights Act of 1964 to eliminate it; therefore, from this we see the power of government intervention, but the interventions were a result of a battle long fought by civil rights advocates who risked everything for change. People against the war in Viet Nam, and more recently Cindy Sheehan against the war in Iraq took unpopular positions. Perhaps that is what we need. Advocates willing to be ridiculed risking status and popularity.

    Amber, your writing about this is a risk. You are questioning the media, and they are a powerful influence who can harm you in ways you never imagined. You are a brave soul, and I applaud you.

    One of the citations says, " was his responsibility to get treatment...." Could this be more inaccurate from a mental health standpoint? Our ill family members with no insight can not take care of themselves. You only have to go to any large city and see who the homeless and forgotten really are.

    Ignorance and fear drive people to make statements like the ones above, and until we treat mental illness like an illness and not criminalize it, nothing is going to change. No one wants to see innocent people hurt or killed because laws prevent timely and effective intervention, or the services for the mentally ill are so sparse that getting adequate care and follow up leave them in the streets untreated and uncared for.

  2. I totally agree. Our culture feeds on what the media puts out there. I stopped watching the news years ago because I couldn't stand the negativity. I always play scenarios in my head. I envision a day when I will educate students, create a national campaign, meet with Congress or picket movie studios:) I have been inspired by so many courageous people who would not settle for discrimination and decided to enact change. Unfortunately, mental illness remains to be misunderstood. I look at it like an empty canvas. There is so much we can do!

    It is so interesting that you make the same connections I do with others forms of discrimination. I am constantly comparing all types of historic discrimination. I often wonder if people will join me on my quest to change. It is so hard to do it alone but over time I think some progress will be made. Even before my brother's diagnosis, I was very defensive if anyone made ignorant remarks towards African Americans, Jewish individuals, gays, lesbians...because I couldn't understand why others would allow skin color, sexual orientation or religion to define who that person was. I was always very vocal. Maybe because I was always an outsider. This attitude and judgement seemed so hateful. I see FEAR at the root of all of this. It makes me sad that people will allow the media to make decisions for them. My father always told me that we are born with free will. So I always said I would not take that for granted or abuse that will. Trust me, I am not perfect, but I have realized that for some reason, I was born with a strong sense of empathy. Maybe that is why I want to protect so many.

  3. I agree that fear is at the root, and fear is based in ignorance. To fight fear you have to educate. You have probably heard the expression "face your fears." Really what that means is learn about what it is you "think" you fear. Read about it; hold it in your hands; take it with you for a few days; put yourself there. It's like desensitizing yourself to something. If someone is afraid of animals, they are introduced slowly and caustiously progressing within an acceptable time frame for them to gain confidence. If you are afraid of water, first you get your toes wet. The point here is recognizing that fear is about perceptions, and some kinds of fear protect us, like the fear of being burned, so we don't touch hot things. When we fear something about which we know little to nothing, our imaginations fill in all the blanks for us, usually with misperceptions. In the case of mental illness, where little to nothing is known by the general population, they allow others to fill in the blanks for them. It's just easier for them because they don't have to think or have original thoughts. That is why teaching the public about mental illness breaks down the barriers and allows the truth about our ill family members to be known, which you have given some examples in your original post. And whats more important is it allows people to make informed decisions based on real, correct information instead of supposition promulgated by those who might profit or gain from furthering propaganda. There will be those who still have prejudices; it's human nature. Homophobia is an example. Some people will always be prejudiced. But I think about how gay people were viewed twenty years ago and now. There is vast difference in acceptance between then and now. I just hope we can look back twenty years from now and feel the same progress for those who are mentally ill.

  4. Thank you for this well-informed post. You are giving important information here, and you are doing a great job. Also, I sent the link to your blog to my dad, who doesn't know much about my illness, and he told me he understands it better now. I wanted to thank you for that. I have put the link to your blog on mine, and hopefully some more readers will come across it.

    I am going to be helping NAMI train police officers on how to deal with people who have mental illnesses in the future. I think this is vitally important - to educate the public and particularly the people who may have to deal directly with someone who has a mental illness and is in a state of crisis. It is important for all of us to educate everyone we can. That is the only way we will destroy this stigma that so permeates society today.

  5. beautiful mind, complex life,

    Thank you very much for finding purpose in my blog. I have so much more to talk about:) I think it is so great that you will be training police officers. I am sure it is very fulfilling to help out in some way. When my brother was in Italy and clearly psychotic, he ended up in a southern Italy jail and recalls being beaten by officers. It makes me sick to think about how scared he must have been. The more education we give the more understanding there will be.

  6. beautiful mind,complex life

    Thank you so much for sharing the information about working with NAMI to supply education for the police. It's never right to blame someone for having the tools to do their job. And I firmly believe that this is the case most of the time when it comes interactions with our ill family members and the police. We still get upset and angry, but we have to look at all sides of a situation first to understand it and then to work toward solutions.

  7. Suicide

    We talked about suicide last month, but has anyone seen what a senator said about AIG executives today? I am just as concerned as anyone about the misuse of funds given to AIG, but to suggest this even as rhetoric to me is incomprenhensible.