What is it about the idea of mental illness that makes so many people afraid of those who have a mental illness? I’ve never been quite sure. There are some cases where I can kind of understand it – a cannibalistic psychopath would scare the crap out of me, frankly. But I can’t recall ever being afraid of someone with mental illness just because of that. And right now, it seems like there are more than a few people who are scared of people like me just because of something I have no control over.
Elliot Rodger, the shooter from the recent killings in Isla Vista, California, was a violent, privileged misogynist, who seemed to hate basically everyone around him because they didn’t immediately give him everything he ever wanted. He also, apparently, had some kind of mental illness, though I haven’t seen anything saying exactly what it might be. And despite being a violent misogynist, it seems that a lot of people are focusing on the fact that he had a mental illness as a reason for why things went so wrong. At work on Tuesday, I heard a customer telling her friend that she wondered why, after ‘all these crazy people shootings’, that people with mental illnesses weren’t just locked up. Since I wanted to keep my job, I didn’t get to do what I really wanted to (which might have been proving her point, I grant), but instead had to smile and thank her for coming.
As I would imagine most readers here know (and, if you don’t, then this will be a shock, but come on, you’ve been missing the obvious), I have a mental illness. I’ve had major clinical depression for 14 years now. In that time, I have tried to commit suicide twice, but I have never tried to inflict any kind of criminal harm on anyone else. And, at 34 – 12 years older than Elliot Rodger – I have neither had a girlfriend nor had sex. I’m not a violent criminal, and I don’t hate women. In fact, despite my occasional claims of misanthropy, I don’t hate the majority of people. So, what about my having a mental illness is so scary to people like the customer on Tuesday?
Hell, after the time I have spent around other people with mental illnesses – people with anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder borderline personality disorder, psychosis, narcissistic personality disorder, Asperger’s, ADD, mood disorder, and even one with intermittent explosive disorder – the only one I was even a little worried to be around was the guy with intermittent explosive disorder, and that’s only because the staff at the acute care facility seemed to have a talent for setting him off. Well, I was also worried to be around my quintuple-felon roommate, but that was more because of the felonies than whatever his mental problems were. I’ve met some people with mental illnesses who really bugged me, but then I’ve also met plenty of people without mental illnesses who bug me.
So what is so scary about mental illness? Is it that there’s really nothing physical to see – that the illness is literally all in one’s head? Is it that it is something that can strike with little to no warning, and there are any number of treatments for these illnesses – but none of them are guaranteed to work? If it’s that, then all the people scared of mental illness should be terrified of cancer patients, as well. I just don’t understand. What about my having a mental illness is worthy of making others scared of me just by virtue of my depression? Why aren’t we more scared of people who, I don’t know, are violent misogynists (as Laci Green explains so well)? What can I do to show people that my mental illness – indeed, most mental illnesses – aren’t things to be afraid of?
I am not a monster. I am just a man.