I had an opportunity to teach a group of school teachers about mental illness. After last weeks Florida school shooting I was prepared for questions about mental illness and violence. It’s beyond sad this is an ever occurring topic.
But what happens to those of us who live with a mental illness when the public, president and politicians point the finger quickly at mental illness as the sole explanation for the violence? It’s a complicated answer.
I’ve spent the past three years publicly talking about bipolar disorder, my psychotic episodes and the consequences of my untreated, under treated mental health condition. As confident as I am owning all of who I am, I get a little rattled and defensive when people say mental illness caused the shooting. I get upset being stigmatized into a small group, though disturbing number of people who commit horrendous crimes.
But something happened to me tonight as I taught the class and openly shared my experiences with bipolar disorder. I could talk about the fact more than 14 million people live with serious mental illness-and very few are violent. And I can also say that sometimes people with mental illness can be violent. Probably more impactful was the fact I was the “teacher” living with bipolar disorder, openly talking about it and saying, “I’m not crazy, whacko, looney, nuts, dangerous, or violent. I’m just a person with bipolar disorder who takes medication so I can live my life productively. For the most part, I’m just like everyone else.”
And as satisfying as it is to have an honest and open conversation about mental illness, most people aren’t as fortunate as me. Most people don’t have a platform where you can look people in the eye and tell them you have a mental illness and you aren’t violent. Even if they were terrified of me they were a captive audience there to of all things learn from me.
I have found there is no greater confidence builder than being open about my bipolar disorder. But I’m also realistic in knowing not everyone has the freedom in sharing that information.
Many people do believe those with mental illness are violent-end of story. That’s probably the same people who say, “It’s time to bring back mental institutions and lock me’ all up.” That was sadly an actual comment on Facebook to an article written about the Florida school shooting. I cringed when I read this…
Then, reality set in. We don’t even have enough funding for research or current mental health treatment, where are we going to find the funding to put over 14 million people in institutions that don’t exists. It’s just people scared and uniformed lashing out with what terrifies those of us with mental illness-the threat of being locked up against our will.
I digress…anyhow the point is all these comments people say about those with mental illness matter. It effects people. No one wants to be assumed as violent. Would you?
When you’re having a discussion about a mass shooting, perhaps we should consider all the facts and not try to simply blame mental illness as the only cause. There’s more to the story.
And by the way, most people with mental illness aren’t violent.