As an activist and campaigner I fight everyday to end stigma against the mentally ill and do this as a person who has been stigmatised since being a child – for my disability due to neurological damage from trauma and my genetic neurodiversity.
When there are mass shootings, murders and acts of terrorism the common labels are thrown about. Now I can not stop people from using words which stigmatise the mentally ill in everyday life, as this would be impossible, the words which come out are often misguided or just common place. However this does not mean they do not have an affect on me, and our community. In challenging these reactions and the usual rhetoric we must first admit that there is an issue, that words are not just words – they have impact and consequences. We must look at labelling, stereotyping, cognitive separating, emotional reactions, status loss, and discrimination. As we must do with all the diversity in the world.
As someone who is married to a Muslim, my husband and I often sit there and see which one of us will get the blame when a news report states a mass murder or a shooting/stabbing/beheading, more often than not, both of us do. A mentally ill, Islamic terrorist is normally the go to. However if the individual is white – then no religion or political persuasion is highlighted, but mental illness as a label and cause remains. None of these factors are relevant in the end, as the criminal was a murderer – a killer of humanity at its essence. Hate has no religion, disability, sexuality, gender, race – hate is hate.
However I am speaking as a mentally ill person so this is my voice and focus.
Here are some facts on Violence & mental health (from Time To Change)
- The majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems.
- People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others: 90 per cent of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress.
- In 2009, the total population in England and Wales was just over 43 million. It is estimated that about one in six of the adult population will have a significant mental health problem at any one time (more than 7 million people). Given this number and the 50–70 cases of homicide a year involving people known to have a mental health problem at the time of the murder, clearly the statistics data do not support the sensationalised media coverage about the danger that people with mental health problems present to the community.
- According to the British Crime Survey, almost half (47 per cent) of the victims of violent crimes believed that their offender was under the influence of alcohol and about 17 per cent believed that the offender was under the influence of drugs. Another survey suggested that about 30 per cent of victims believed that the offender attacked them because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In contrast, only 1 per centof victims believed that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness.
- Contrary to popular belief, the incidence of homicide committed by people diagnosed with mental health problems has stayed at a fairly constant level since the 1990s
- Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (including discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients).
Reporting stories featuring violence and mental health problems
- stick to the facts – don’t speculate about someone’s mental health being a factor unless the facts are clear
- consider including contextualising facts about how very few people with mental health problems are violent
- seek comment from a mental health charity such as Mind or Rethink Mental Illness
- speak to the perpetrator’s family – often they are victims too with compelling stories to tell
So I ask you to remember this when you next go to use a label associated with mental illness / disability / neurodiversity:
When YOU use the words: nut-job, psycho, maniac, crazy, insane, psychopath, nutter… to describe criminals and their actions YOU put us back in the dark ages.When YOU associate mass murder with mental illness you demonise us.You put me and others in danger.You isolate the already isolated.You cause further illness to us.You criminalise us, which we have been fighting to end since the asylums closed.You excuse hate and name it “mental illness”.You echo the rhetoric of the far right, the fascists, the eugenicists, the people who have robbed us of our humanity and freedom, the people who want us destroyed.You take away our civil rights.You hand us the knife, the noose, the pill bottle.
You are part of the problem and YOU need to STOP!
Could non disabled / neuro-divergent / mentally ill peopleSTOP speaking for us!
Stop pushing us down with your privilege!
Stop telling people how “we” feel.
Be our allies – support us, just DON’T speak for us.