Mental illness has defined my life for almost half my life. It has affected every part of my existence, and there’s a good chance it always will. Because of this, it’s a cause dear to my heart. I believe that the stigma of mental health needs to be thrown out the way they threw out lobotomies as a treatment for hysteria. It’s wrong, it’s unnecessary, and it has no place in the modern world. So when I saw this,
my reaction was instant and visceral.
Let me make one thing transparently, abundantly clear. Mass murder is NOT a symptom of depression. There are millions – perhaps tens or hundreds of millions – of people who go to work every day and don’t kill everyone they see at work, despite suffering depression. Every bloody time some journalist makes the connection between mass murder and depression, it adds to the stigma of mental illness. Things are already bad enough without adding any more to the crap that the mentally ill face each day.
Mentally ill people are far more likely to suffer violence than to hand it out, but that’s quietly swept under the rug in favour of the sensationalist headline. No, we need to question why a depressed man was allowed to do his job. Tell me, if one in five people on average will suffer mental illness in their lifetime, should we be grounding twenty percent of our flight officers? How well is that going to go down? And what evidence do you have that that is a sensible way to deal with mental illness in high-stress jobs? None. Because it’s completely ridiculous.
Things like this makes the everyday lives of people with mental illnesses more difficult. A responsible way to deal with a tragedy involving a (possibly – we don’t even know for sure yet) mentally ill person is to not publicise the mental health angle – it’s about as relevant as a history of gall stones. Unless someone with some expertise in mental health treatment makes a proper statement regarding someone’s mental state, it’s not relevant. But that doesn’t fit in with the drive for the best headline.
No pilot with any sense will come out to his employer any time soon about struggling with depression because the airline is likely to ground them faster than they can blink. If the media found out otherwise, the airline would be ‘irresponsible’ and not pro-active in ensuring passengers’ safety. Instead, it’s going to be hidden and bottled up – and everyone knows that’s the best way to deal with depression. Or not maybe.
Mentally ill people are not more likely to be murderers. They are not inherently dangerous. They are not unusually violent. They span the usual human distribution of these traits – there are violent people, abusive people, cruel people, whether mentally ill or not. There is nothing about mental illness that makes a person more likely to slaughter others, or beat people senseless, or any other violent action. Linking mental illness to violence is unfair, inaccurate, and irresponsible.