Friday, April 3, 2009

I hate to have to post about these stories but I feel I must. A mother has been charged with stabbing her daughter with a scissors and attempting to strangle her. You can read the rest of the article here. Now, what this woman did to her daughter is unthinkable and truly heartbreaking. However, because I know first hand what mental illness can do to someone who is untreated, I have to discuss the other side of the story. When these stories break, the media has an opportunity to educate the public about mental illness. We could reduce stigma if the public understood why this woman acted in such violence. Instead, news stories amplified the severity of the violence and even provided audio of the incident. Many versions of the story start out by saying that the woman was heard screaming "Die! Die!" in the 911 call. Now, to any reader, of course he/she will think that this woman was capable of this horrific act. Even if we tell the public that the woman had a history of mental illness, they can only reference movie villains or other one sided news stories. Some information led me to beleive that the mother was suffering from a paranoid episode (being chased by a cult). Also, "Johnson has a history of depression and had not been taking her medication, Binder said, adding she does not remember the attack in the laundry room." 

The media will never advertise that less than 5% of those with a mental disorder have a history of violence. There are so many facts kept private from the public. There has to be a way to fight the media on this. I will keep thinking of ways to make a change here because if the public does not understand what caused the attack, then they will continue to view ALL INDIVIDUALS as "psychotic, schizo, crazy monsters" who are merely expendable human beings. We are in desperate need of more discussion. There are too many courageous individuals out there dealing with a very real illness. Lack of education about mental illness is evident in the comments below:  

"Please even if you are a bit on the loony side you know it is wrong to stab and try to kill your child. People who hurt defenseless innocent children are the worst to me. I hope she rots in hell." 

"If you're stabbing and attempting to murder your child, you're a nutter."  

"Rotten!!!!! 100 of the same to the mother!!!!!"


  1. Truth is, most people do not understand the nature of psychosis and delusions. When something terrible happens the initial response is to punish those who have no control over their illness. We react with compassion if someone has a seizure and crashes a car, but cannot understand the terrible things a psychotic episode can cause a person to do. True enough, there is little distinction drawn between a competent person with bad intent and a person stricken with a psychotic incident. Perhaps this will change when we can understand and explain the real mechanism that caused the behavior. Until then the stigma and presumption of the behavior that arises from psychosis is doomed to be misunderstood.

    If logical people would stop and reason that in many instances the result of the behavior defys all sense of logic, then some glimmer of understanding may appear. The psychotic mother that kills their own child clearly is not in a rational state and is unable to correctly assess the consequences of their action. That the actions can be represented as a choice that is within their ability to properly reason the consequenses of their actions is ludicrous.

  2. Hi AC,

    What people don't realize is that if you have SZ, you will be turned away from a hospital bed if you're psychotic yet no danger to yourself or others. It's hard to get admitted to a ward these days. Members of the public need to understand that hospital beds are in short supply, people with SZ are turned away from the few remaining beds, and the climate of distate for "forced medication" by the free will contingent is alive and well. All these forces enable people with SZ to suffer, and keep suffering, until the unthinkable happens, and it will happen.

    Again, the idea that people with SZ aren't worth helping or saving is also alive and well, as you suggested.

    How can we convert the general public instead of just preaching to the choir? Where can we get statistics that prove our case and how can we enlist the media to use the accurate statistics to help us get research dollars, compassion and good press?


  3. The word should be distaste, not distate.


  4. Yes, that's the problem: forced hospital stays or forced medication is generally frowned upon. How do you get people to take meds when they're not convinced they're sick? When they truly believe their delusions?


  5. I agree with the responses here, and yes it does seem like we are preaching to the choir, but at least the conversation is a nest for new ideas and perhaps a starting point for those who are in the position to speak publically.

    The criminalization of mentally unstable individuals is one of the issues. And considering the fact that prosecutors are elected positions and beholden to an electoral constituency, public opinion holds a tremendous amount of influence in how people like this unfortunate woman are prosecuted. And this brings us back to the stigma aspect and the importance of public education.

    I am not optomistic that cases like this are going to disappear, but I am optomistic that people like Amber who are in the forefront informing the public about the realities of the illness, the value of mental health courts; allowing families to participate in treatment decisions; expansion of community based programs that are sufficiently staffed and managed; and the decriminalization of mental illness.