When the deadly shooting that took the lives of 17 students and injured just as many students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida occurred, droves of politicians went on live TV and condemned the barbaric atrocity in the days that followed.
It didn’t take long for many of the politicians to turn the spotlight on mental health. However, many of them, including the highest office of the US to House Speaker, used people with mental illness as scapegoats, saying that mental illness is a precursor to violence, which is simply not true.
Once again, mental illness was made out to be the big bad wolf.
Sadly, the pessimist in me believes that the same story will repeat itself after more details about the Austin bomber emerges.
Given how most people receive information about mental health from news outlets and entertainment media which has perpetuated baseless myths and misunderstandings about mental illness, these actions have had a part in stigmatizing mental illness and turning people away from seeking treatment.
This is why it is imperative that we fight this narrative.
Firstly, we have to acknowledge that words matter.
How we talk about mental health can go a long way in changing our perceptions of it.
This is why it is important to not use words like “pagol” or crazy or retarded and other ableist slurs as insults. Or worse, to describe people especially people who have mental illness with.
Furthermore, it is also important that we call out such behaviour amongst family and friends who participate in such name-calling because, instead of being people with illnesses, this sort of language enforces the idea that the illness is central to the person, which contributes to the stigma.
For context, one wouldn’t expect such derogatory and belittling tones to be used to describe people with physical disabilities.
Treating conversations about mental health just as we would physical illness is important.
Because mental illness doesn’t manifest itself in ways that physical illness does, there is a tendency to downplay or dismiss the impact that mental health can have on an individual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Furthermore, educating yourself and people about mental health and mental illness and raising awareness is crucial to combating the stigma around mental illnesses.
With all of knowledge being a few Google searches away, that is easier than ever. With the help of social media, it is easier than ever to learn about local events that promote the issue of mental health.
This flippant attitude towards mental illnesses has been embedded in our everyday life. However, as with all societal changes, it will take the will power of the masses to tackle this problem.
Rastin Reza is a freelance contributor