ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Misperceived by Society

By Jack Bragen
Thursday June 13, 2013 - 10:14:00 PM

Most people are taught by sensationalized news and exaggerated movies to be paranoid about persons with mental illness. People should realize that most mentally ill people are not dangerous, and on the contrary, are often victimized by criminals who see us as relatively defenseless people. 

It is important for people to distinguish between a criminal, secondly, someone who is criminally insane or thirdly, someone with a mental health diagnosis. Most criminals have a perfectly good grip on reality. They know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it, and they have little or no regard for most other human beings. Criminally insane persons are extremely rare, and are those who commit mass murders on school campuses or in other public places. Such a person may be delusional, but has a good enough grip on reality that they can effectively carry out these atrocities. Such a person also has no regard for others, and cares only about getting revenge for perceived wrongs that they believe they have endured. 

However, most persons with mental illness have no ill will toward the world, and simply want to live their own challenged lives and to somehow make things better for themselves. Most persons with mental illness are not violent, with some rare exceptions. However, persons with severe mental illness have a high suicide risk. 

Persons with mental illness are wrongly criminalized (treated as though criminals) by our culture. 

When someone has an aunt or an uncle with mental illness, often that relative does not get talked about-the person's existence is kept hush. When someone with mental illness is able to hold a job and essentially fit into society, often their illness and the fact that they may be on medication is kept in the closet. If their employer discovers the truth, it could cause that person to be fired. And that is wrong. 

There should be no shame in having a mental illness. It is a disease like any other--which, like cancer, is fought against with much bravery. 

For our society to be healthier, conditions must be made better for persons with mental illness. As it stands, there isn't much provision for us to have worthwhile or even comfortable lives. We are discriminated against in employment, economically disadvantaged as a result and we are often treated without dignity, even by the mental health treatment system. Persons with mental illness are often incarcerated for violations that are minor, and that are caused by the disorientation of the illness. 

Persons with mental illness need to be let into mainstream society just as was done with nonwhite individuals and people of different sexual orientation. However, it is more difficult for us to speak up, because we are often silenced by our disabilities, by our medications, and by those in charge of keeping us under control.