Mental Illness and Violence: Not Synonymous
News reports and media portrayals continue to add fire to the stigma that psychiatric disorders make afflicted individuals more prone towards violence. However, in reality, mental illness and violence are not synonymous.
For example, recently, Keith Vidal, a teenager in North Carolina who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was killed on January 5, 2014.1 He was tased and then shot by a police officer who responded to a call for help from the teen’s family.1 This incident is one of many in which people with psychiatric disabilities are actually more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators.1 North Carolina’s Bureau of Investigation is currently looking into the shooting.1
However, many are speculating about whether or not Vidal’s death resulted from the officer’s self-defense or use of unnecessary force to subdue the teenager, who was experiencing psychosis.1 One thing is for certain, though, discrimination and stigma associated with mental illness is nothing new.1 Portrayals of psychiatric distress and violence in the media greatly influences the minds of the general public.1 It’s effects are profound.1
In fact, the majority of news stories on mental illness focus on the negative characteristics related to people with the disorder, such as impulsivity, unpredictability, and unsociability.1 However, absent are the positive stories that highlight the recovery of many, even those with the most serious of mental illnesses.1 This leads to inaccurate representations of mental illness, striking unnecessary fear in others.1
There are times when people with mental illness commit acts of violence; however, as they are not in their right mind, this needs to be taken into consideration when understanding why.1 A mental illness is a disease, just like cancer and diabetes.1 More understanding of mental illness is needed among the general public in order to lay this stigma to rest.