It’s going to happen again with the same reaction by the media. Maybe we will wake up tomorrow morning and see the report in our morning newspaper; maybe we will hear about it from a coworker at lunchtime; or it will be the lead story of the evening news. Mass murder. Mentally Ill Man. The words will be slung together and dished out to a public which has been bred to believe that mental illness and violence are strongly correlated. Politicians, doctors, family members, and activists will devise plans to cope with the problem. It happened with the Virginia Tech shootings, it happened with the recent Germanwings crash. Autism, bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia have all been implicated at one time or another. The mentally ill cannot be trusted, goes the drumbeat. Schizophrenics and bipolars are killers.
Statistics show that about 3% of the mentally ill are violent. We are ten times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than perpetrators. Yet when we are portrayed on television or the movies, sixty percent of the depictions commit crimes, especially violence. So coupled with the way news outlets spin stories about mass murder, the general public believes that we are ax murderers and serial killers.
Some reformers use this fear to drive some very specific agendas, namely destruction of our rights to privacy, forced medication, and the resurrection of mental hospitals. The objective is to control the mentally ill. They might argue that this is the best we can get in a society with our values, but that is a weak defense of some very problematic and questionable policy changes.
I’m not wearing this mask because I live with bipolar disorder. I wear it because you fear my real one.
Go to any costume store and you will see plenty of masks purporting to depict psychotics. If you are to believe the manufacturers, we are deformed and rabid creatures that are part animal, part alien, and part degenerate. People buy these with a mind to having a good drunken laugh at my expense and that of everyone who shares my affliction or has another related condition such as schizophrenia, borderline disorder and even depression!
Because of this, we wear another kind of facial covering — invisibility. Coupled with this is Silence. We do not talk about our illness much with outsiders — which can include our members of our own family — it is much too dangerous. You deny us jobs, decent housing, and even friendship because you fear an imaginary ax murderer lurking inside our skins.
Difficult to end when I am feeling stable but energized and impossible when I am manic, InterNet disputes are a drug of choice for me. I just ended an exchange that went on for over an hour with someone on Facebook. She would not stop and neither would I. It seemed to me that no matter what I said to refute her, she kept repeating the same thing over and over. My ire was up: I had a defense to make and, equally important, someone to skewer. Then in the middle of it, I realized that I had become a Facebook Mr. Hyde, shared one last anecdote, and announced the end of my participation. Others have responded to the thread since then and I have not read what they said. Whether they indict me or stand up for me, I shall not involve myself anymore.
Long ago — on the abUSENET, I learned that it was a waste of time arguing against the trolls and cranks of the Net. If I spent a long time preparing an intelligent rebuttal to something they said, they’d dismiss it with a brute-force remark or lame witticism. Some even went so far as to create robots that would repeat the same argument every time certain key words appeared anywhere in the newsgroups. You could easily exhaust yourself fighting these. I gave it up for the Web because I realized that the newsgroups were a waste of time.