Post No.: 0254
Stigma arises within a social interaction when an individual’s actual social identity (the attributes she/he can be proved to possess) does not meet society’s normative expectations of the attributes an individual ought to possess. So a person who stigmatises others arguably reveals her/his own lack of understanding of what it means to be human and diverse – as if everybody must conform to behaving in a certain way to be accepted in society. For example, if someone talks to her/himself then that’s not considered normal and furthermore should be punished through stigmatisation and ostracism – even though talking to oneself is not actually harmful to anyone, and is a more common and normal behaviour than most people believe anyway. It’s like masturbation – many people who privately do it themselves still try to mock others who do it as ****ers!
Discrimination can be manifested overtly and publicly, or covertly and subconsciously or implicitly. It can be perpetrated by groups or individuals, and can be structural (e.g. via employment policies) or sub-cultural (e.g. via religious or superstitious beliefs). When someone is labelled, whether with something considered negative or positive – other people tend to subconsciously, if not consciously, stereotype and treat people in an unhelpful or discriminatory way. There are so many different types of mental disorders, plus few people behave in exactly the same ways even if they have the same mental health disorder classification, thus to stereotype them all and treat them all the same way is totally naïve and counterproductive. It’ll be like believing that all physical injuries are the same and can be stereotyped. Meow!
Fictional and even some factual (through oversimplification) media sources can perpetuate erroneous, exaggerated and/or taken-out-of-context images, ideas and negative stereotypes of the mentally disordered too – such as that they’re dangerous, they all have either extremely low or high IQs, are socially awkward, or they don’t deal with their own problems independently and thus are a drain on society. But if presented more accurately, realistically and sensitively, without oversimplification, dumbing down or cherry-picking rare and extreme cases for sensationalism, the media can help educate people instead.
We fear what we don’t understand or what we misunderstand. So some people stigmatise or mock those with mental illnesses because they essentially fear them. For example, they fear people with schizophrenia (which is frequently confused with multiple personality disorder) and what they might do so they shun them, avoid them or try to make them feel like they don’t belong so that people with schizophrenia voluntarily (well in a coerced way) feel like they should hide in the background of society or move on rather than hang around them. But since people fear what they do not understand – they need to be educated and be open to education rather than push away what or whom they don’t understand. It’s very low of people to feel personally elevated from the misery of others too – this would speak about the self-esteem and therefore mental health, or if not then cruel personality, of those who take pleasure from other people’s misery, if only such people realised this.
Even friends can shun people who’ve been newly diagnosed with a mental health disorder out of fear, thus making the sufferer’s situation even worse because they need good social support to get better. Some sufferers feel that the social stigma and discrimination is a greater problem than the mental illness itself i.e. the illness itself causes them fewer problems than society’s lack of tolerance and understanding of their condition. This can lead to a vicious circle, with the stigma exacerbating a person’s condition and/or making them hide away in loneliness, which will hinder their recovery.
And no one tends to go, “Hey look at all those non-mentally ill murderers over the years – all non-mentally ill people cannot be trusted.” Yet some people go, “Hey look at that mentally ill murderer on the news today – all mentally ill people cannot be trusted”(!) It’s a twisted perceptual bias. What tends to happen is that if the perpetrator of a homicide is not mentally ill then the focus of the news story will be on the victim(s), but if the perpetrator is mentally ill then the focus of the news story will be on the perpetrator. Thus there’s a bias in the reportage, for demonising the mentally ill but not the equally murderous non-mentally ill as much! It’s as if people with mental disorders are still considered cases of cautious curiosity, like foreign people were, or still are in some places.
Lots of murders around the world are committed due to money matters, escalated revenge or hate crimes. The vast majority of murders, terrorism and other violent crimes are committed by those without diagnosed mental health conditions. The vast majority of murders, terrorism and other violent crimes are also committed by males – but should we generalise, fear, suspect and victimise all males as being criminals?(!) Far more people with mental health disorders don’t commit crimes compared to people with mental health disorders who do. People with mental health illnesses are actually more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of violent crimes. And criminals often exploit people with mental vulnerabilities too (e.g. exploiting their addictions or easy grooming). So the media and public need to be aware of the cold statistics and take some proper perspective. Punish anyone – mentally ill or not – for the behaviour of committing crimes such as murder or assault, but not anyone, either pre-emptively or after a conviction, for just being mentally ill, which would otherwise be analogous to discriminating against women at work for simply being women rather than for the quality of work they individually do.
All sufferers are individual, but the less people understand about them, the more they generalise and perceptually homogenise them. The media will tend to only pick up on the salient stories (e.g. a mentally ill person crashing a plane full of people) but they’re salient precisely because they are rare and typically unrepresentative of the typical – just like the media will pick up on stories of lottery winners rather than any of the thousands of other people who didn’t win, but who are far more representative and typical of the outcome of anyone who plays the lottery. We shouldn’t generalise people with mental health conditions as criminal in the same way we shouldn’t generalise people who play the lottery as net winners. The latter may be potential winners, but literally everybody capable of having a mens rea or guilty mind is a potential criminal! (Note that being a commercial airline pilot is frequently rated as being one of the most stressful careers there is, so there have been and are many pilots with mental health issues yet they have never crashed and will never crash a plane on purpose – but these stories weren’t and aren’t considered interesting enough to make the news.)
Some mentally vulnerable people who get bullied seek revenge for being bullied, whether against their bullies directly or displaced onto the society that they feel rejects them. Therefore those bullies have arguably got to take some responsibility for the consequences of their antisocial behaviours too?
Okay then – should anyone who takes the lives of multiple people at once or on aggregate (i.e. a mass or serial killer) be automatically deduced to be mentally disordered or insane just by virtue of them committing such highly unusual acts? No, because there are also a lot of contextual factors that make individuals kill – not least combatants in conflict or as a result of the indoctrinations of a religion, cult or political belief, for instance. Mass killings or injustices have also been committed under plainly rational motives in history. For example, military powers of the time invading weaker countries in order to take their resources and even enslave other humans, with the rational cost-to-benefit calculation of ‘the opposition stands little chance to resist our own forces’ and ‘the capital gains are worth the investment, risks or costs of the military invasion’. Are all generals and soldiers therefore automatically mentally ill? Terrorists can be considered rational if they believe that their acts will successfully cause fear and spread their message to the population.
So if a mentally ill person commits a terrible crime then it’s not necessarily because of their mental illness but because they are or were a terrible person with a terrible or selfish motive. Many non-mentally ill people have committed horrific crimes, and many mentally ill people have never and will never commit a horrific crime. It’s like if a woman crashes her car then it’s not because she was female but because she was a poor driver, at least at that time. And many men have crashed cars too, and many women have not crashed a car and never will.
If a person causes harm or distress to another person and the perpetrator happens to have a mental illness then of course the perpetrator should still be investigated and dealt with for her/his crimes or alleged crimes – not for her/his mental illness but for her/his crimes. It’s just like a poor person who steals should still be punished for stealing – but not for being poor. Their punishment or rehabilitation may involve being committed to a psychiatric facility if appropriate. So if a man has a hypersexuality problem and harasses women because of it, for instance, then he should receive treatment for that sex addiction but can still go to jail or otherwise be punished too for harassing those women – the consequences aren’t mutually exclusive.
Of course, the victims of any crime, caused by anyone whether mentally ill or not, should be primarily protected and served. But if the perpetrator is genuinely mentally ill then perhaps she/he should receive some help for that too. In other words, we should logically have more sympathy for criminals who are genuinely mentally ill than those who are not. This means that if you accuse someone of being mentally ill rather than just something like selfish, greedy or cruel then your compassionate and non-cruel response should logically be one of sympathy rather than something like anger or revenge. It’ll otherwise be as absurd as getting aggressive about a person who couldn’t complete a physical task properly while accusing her/him of being physically disabled(!) Who would be the unreasonable person or ‘idiot’ here?!
And after all, the point of jail sentences, fines and justice in general is arguably not so much about punishment but preventing recidivism and – in the bigger societal picture – trying to prevent as many crimes as possible in the first instance (starting from when people are young) so that no one needs be ‘corrected’ in any correctional facility.
Those in custody who receive ongoing mental health support if they need it are less likely to re-offend, so it makes long-term sense for society to invest in this area. Although retribution is a part of justice – the main goal surely must be to minimise the chances of previous offenders committing any more crimes in the future. We cannot change what happened in the past but we can improve the future.
The stigma of mental health conditions, and physical health conditions too, is overall decreasing as people are becoming more and more exposed to and educated about them via the media, but this education is not uniform across all circles and across the world (e.g. even a US President has mocked a reporter with a disability in recent years). So there’s still some way for the world to go, and this situation of fearing and negatively stereotyping the mentally ill and stigmatising them as a whole still needs improving – so Furrywisepuppy and I will stay on the case!
Meow! According to the World Health Organisation, mental health issues affect 1 in 4 people, so you’ve been living amongst people with mental health problems, peacefully, even though you might not have realised it.