In Disney’s “Lion King,” three hyenas are depicted as emotionally out of control. They roll their eyes and laugh hysterically. It is obvious that hyenas occupy the lowest level in the animal kingdom, unpredictable and to be feared.
To every child in the audience the message is clear: Those suffering from brain disorders are dangerous and violent. They are laughable. They are different; they should be avoided. The movies and other public media are among our most potent tools of socialization, and reinforcement of what is inaccurate and untrue about psychiatric issues stigmatizes those who suffer, alienating them from others
Recent events have focused on the mentally ill in our communities, and local news outlets have covered the issue with sensitivity and accuracy. But as thoughtful as the coverage is, depictions in the press can portray those with brain disorders as dangerous. If they hadn’t been involved in some monstrous act – a suicide/murder for example – they wouldn’t make the news in the first place. When someone is labeled bi-polar on the front page, even if the diagnosis is accurate, those who peaceably suffer in silence do so in even greater isolation.
One fact has been proven over and over by crime statistics: Those with psychiatric challenges are much more likely to be victims of crime than criminals. A 1999 study concluded that those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis are 2 ½ times more likely to be assaulted than those who are spared from those disorders. Yet public surveys reveal that two-thirds of Americans believe the mentally ill to be violent and unstable.
It isn’t just violence that is inaccurately pinned on those with psychosocial disabilities. Think of Otis Campbell, the fictional “town drunk” on the Andy Griffith Show. Even in 1960s America, everyone in front of their black-and-white Admirals who struggled with addiction must have cringed to see the abuse that Otis suffered.
Science has taught us a great deal about the brain, addiction, and psychological issues since Andy hung up his badge in 1968. We know that many disorders have their roots in genetics or in diagnosable, treatable, viral or bacterial infections. Programs like the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s “In Our Own Voice,” by bringing people into contact with those who suffer from psychiatric problems, have taught us that those around us who are mental health care clients are in the most meaningful ways no different than everyone.
Above all, be aware that everything that is on the screen, in a novel, or in your favorite magazine, has the potential to alienate someone around you. It is estimated that at any given time one in four of us is facing a psychological crisis. Further isolating them from those who can help by stigmatizing them exacts an enormous cost to society. The cure could start with you.
MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW THE FACTS, NO STIGMA is a year-long campaign sponsored by a dedicated group of partners on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore:
The Worcester County Health Department
The Somerset County CORE Services Agency
The Wicomico County Health Department
Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services
The Jesse Klump Memorial Fund, Inc.
Atlantic General Hospital
Worcester County Department of Social Services
The Life Crisis Center
The Maryland Association of CORE Services Agencies
The Worcester County Drug and Alcohol Council
MENTAL HEALTH: KNOW THE FACTS, NO STIGMA culminates with a March 19, 2015 conference in Ocean City, Maryland.. For more information about the campaign and conference, and t register for conference attendance, visit www.know-the-facts-no-stigma.org.
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Jesse Klump Memorial Fund