But What about Them?
I think I mentioned this in one of my earlier posts, but in April, my school had their annual Student Writing and Social Justice Conference. I got to participate with a piece of my writing. I was so afraid that everyone would tell me to get the heck out of the room (or something of the sort), but right now I realize that that might have been a strange thing to be afraid of. Now I also realize that I haven’t posted the piece here. So I am copying and pasting it onto this post. The piece is called “But What about Them?” Enjoy!
I was on the bus earlier this month, going home, when I overheard two young men speaking to each other. They were both serving their country through the military, and they were talking about two people they knew that both sustained injuries: one had injuries that were accidental, and the others’ injuries were self-inflicted. The first one received medical benefits, and the other did not. This may not seem too surprising because we all know that this country doesn’t take mental ailments as seriously as physical ailments. There are many people that cannot live as fulfilling a life because of a physical illness, and the government helps them a lot. However, there are also many people that cannot live as fulfilling a life because of a mental illness. So what about them? Are they to be left on their own?
There was an illustrated picture floating around Facebook that depicted a sad young girl with the word “broken” across it. Some of the comments were, “Nobody cares about you,” “You are weak,” “Stop complaining,” “Everyone else’s lives are worse than yours,” “Oxygen thief.” We tell the people that are going through physical health problems that they are strong, brave, and great role models for children. But to the people that are going through mental health problems, we call them lazy, crazy, selfish, shameful, silly–oxygen thieves, and we keep our children away from them. If anything, this serves no purpose but to make them feel worse about themselves than they already do. There’s a Jewish proverb: “An enemy is one whose story you do not know.” You don’t know this girl’s story; therefore you have no right to judge her. Many of you have stresses in life, such as paying your bills, finding a job, or getting your education, the things that matter to you. But what about what matters to her?
I was recently in a class, and we were all waiting for the teacher. There was one older student who was talking to the members of her group, and she said that suicidal people are very dangerous to the people around them because one that has no regard for his or her own life has no regard for others’ lives either. I was inclined to believe her because of her age, but I looked it up and found that only 1.8% of suicides in America every year were murder-suicides. So this woman’s statement was not correct. Sure, there are probably a few mentally ill people that wouldn’t mind taking others’ lives. However, there are many more that would never take anyone’s life but their own. So what about them? Are they to be stigmatized too?
Sometimes I feel like society has already removed a lot of the stigma associated with mental illness, and then something comes up to tell me that they haven’t, especially with recent events in the country. The shooting in Connecticut served no purpose but to destroy the lives of innocent children and their families and to put the stigma back into mental illness. The classmate was referring to the shooting and to the bombing in Massachusetts, which she thought were connected. I am sure many more people think the same thing she did after the shooting, that people with mental illness are dangerous to society. However, here is something you may not know: people with mental illness are at an increased risk of being murdered. A study done by researchers from the U.S. and Sweden examined 615 homicides between 2001-2008, and almost 23% of that population had a mental illness. Again, occasionally, there is that one mentally ill person that kills others, but there are many more that are murdered. So what about them? Are they to be forgotten?
After the shooting in New Town, all anyone could talk about was how crazy the shooter was and how we needed new gun laws to protect our children from people like him. I do not believe new gun laws could have prevented that disaster because it wasn’t the shooter that bought the gun himself; it was registered to his mother, and it was his mother that taught him how to use it. Yes, the new laws could prevent other mass shootings and homicides, but the particular one in New Town, I believe that a more liberal discussion on mental health and its stigma in the United States is the only thing that could have prevented it. If a parent learns that their child has a mental illness, they tend to deny it and say that there is nothing wrong with the child. They do not want to get caught up in the whole dilemma because they are afraid that society would look down on them. Our society has made even the mothers afraid to speak up for their own children when it comes to mental health. This may be all well and good for the parents and for a society that doesn’t want to hear anything about mental illness. But what about the children? Are they to be ignored?
Here is something else you may not have known. Last semester, there was a study done in Sweden that confirmed a link between mental illness and people in the creative professions, especially among writers. For most other artistic and scientific professions, the rate of a mental illness among family members was very high. But among writers, the likelihood that the person would die by suicide is almost 50% compared to the general population.
Here is a new look on creativity: if we come together to break down the stigma of mental illness from our society and petition the government to improve our mental healthcare, this country would have a lot more to offer, and much of it will come from those with mental illness.
In light of all this, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to sit back and just let the world go by? Or are we going to get up and do some good by helping those that cannot help themselves?