USA Today Publishes Harmful Prejudice, Misinformation About People with Mental Health Concerns

USA Today Publishes Harmful Prejudice, Misinformation About People with Mental Health ConcernsUSA Today on Thursday published an editorial hopefully entitled, Editorial: Fix broken mental health system. Which would be fine as a stand-alone piece advocating more money, focus and resources for our nation’s patchwork system of mental health and recovery care.

Instead, they — like many well-meaning but apparently brain-dead newspapers — tie the need to fix our mental health care system — something others have been advocating for for decades — to recent headline-news grabbing acts of atrocious violence.

Only buried in this hypocritical, two-faced gutter-piece editorial do you find the truth — “Only the tiniest fraction of the mentally ill ever become violent, and then, usually when they fail to get treatment.” It’s even worse than that — statistically speaking, mental illness is a horrible predictor of violence, and nobody who’s read the research would ever suggest otherwise.

I have no problem with you advocating to help people with mental health concerns. I have a big problem if you’re doing so because of violence in America. The two have little to no connection with one another.

People let to get all riled up and angry when something tragic occurs. It’s one way many of us cope and try to figure out such events. But when we respond to tragic events with action, we’re likely to do so in a way that makes little sense in the overall, broader picture.

The fact is people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than is the general population.
~ Wayne Lindstrom

For instance, every year in America, over 12,000 people a year are murdered — most by some sort of gun. Nobody gets upset at that huge number, or that 30,000+ people a year who take their own lives.

Instead, the thing that USA Today wants us to get motivated by are these horrific acts of violence that barely read in the overall number of deaths per year due to gun violence. USA Today doesn’t seem to care about the 30,000+ people each year who, because of untreated depression or other mental health concerns, choose to end their lives.1

Wayne Lindstrom, the CEO of Mental Health America, on the other hand, gets it right in his response to the crummy piece of what passes for “insightful opinion” at USA Today:

The premise that we can predict or prevent violent acts is unsupported. Even in the case of severe mental illnesses, mental health professionals possess no special knowledge or ability to predict future behavior.

The fact is people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than is the general population. Continuing to link violence and mental illness only stigmatizes people and deters them from seeking care.

We whole-heartedly share and endorse these words. We stand proudly with Mental Health America and other organizations who’ve read the research and know that linking mental illness to violence is like linking terrorism to a specific religion — it’s a feel good strategy imbeciles do to make themselves feel better.

USA Today rues the good ole days, when we could lock up anyone society disagreed with or didn’t like the looks of in a mental hospital (nowadays referred to an inpatient psychiatric hospital): “Many states have become so strict that it is almost impossible to get people committed until they are in deep crisis, or try to commit suicide or harm someone.” Awww, what a shame — we actually have a reasonable, humane standard before trying to take someone’s freedom away from them.

USA Today should be ashamed of itself for publishing an editorial that only reinforces the discrimination, stigma and prejudice against people with mental health concerns. They continue to spread misinformation about the link between mental illness and violence,2 and suggest we have some sort of magical powers of foresight that would allow us to predict these kinds of incidents with such accuracy, it would be like the science-fiction story, “Minority Report” (we don’t have such magical powers, sorry).

 

USA Today crap editorial: Editorial: Fix broken mental health system

Wayne Lindstrom’s response: Opposing view: Don’t link violence with mental illness

Footnotes:

  1. Worse, they cite the example of Seung-Hui Cho — who actually had contact with mental health professionals!
  2. There really isn’t much of one, according to you know, the actual research.

Best of Our Blogs: January 8, 2013

It happened again. I divulged a secret and confided my most intimate thoughts and vulnerabilities to someone I trusted. And the feedback? Not the way I had hoped or expected. Instead of validation and thoughtful listening I got un-welcomed advice and misunderstanding. It was a conversation that bothered me so much I spent most of the night rehashing it in my mind. The experience taught me a few things.

One is that sometimes people who love you are incapable of being the safety net to hold your uncomfortable feelings. It makes them uncomfortable so they try to change how you feel with words. Even the people who love you most and have the best intentions can’t always know the right things to say. I’m the first to admit that I don’t always say the right things either. It’s the reason why compassion and forgiveness are as important as knowing who to gravitate toward when you’re feeling down. It’s understanding that your aunt may be a better person to listen to your problems than your fun friend who may just tell you to, “Buck up and get over it!”

It’s knowing what you need and who to go to when you need it and it’s also having the awareness that no one (even the good listener) will respond perfectly every time. It’s just like our posts this week. Sometimes you need professional help to deal with your child’s fears or try equine therapy to deal with your own. And although it’s tempting when hurt, rejected or disappointed by loved ones (especially if you’re emotionally sensitive) to isolate, it’s remembering that we all make mistakes. Being human we’re just not equipped to be perfect all the time. Added to this list, we also have posts on quitting smoking when you have ADHD and info on a new bill that may disclose your personal info (if you’re under 26) to your parents. It’s a great list to start your week and 2013!

A Parent’s Guide to Child & Adolescent Anxiety
(Therapy That Works) – What do you do if your child is suffering from anxiety? This post reveals the common childhood anxiety disorders and leaves you with information on what you can do to help.

What about the privacy rights of young adults with mental illnesses?
(Depression On My Mind) – A shocking new bill requires the disclosure of mental illness treatment to parents of their children under 26-years of age. Will this prevent potential suicide and homicide related to mental illness or would it just prevent young adults from seeking treatment? Share your thoughts here.

Study Suggests that Equine Therapy is Effective
(Equine Therapy) – How effective is equine therapy? This promising study showed positive and beneficial outcomes offering surprising evidence of its efficacy.

Accepting Loneliness: A First Step Toward Connecting
(The Emotionally Sensitive Person) – It’s not easy being lonely especially for someone who is emotionally sensitive. But there is a purpose in loneliness and it is the common link that binds all of us. If you’ve been feeling lonely lately because of a breakup, a recent move or lack of true friendships, read this.

8 Advantages of Having ADHD While Quitting Smoking 
(ADHD from A to Zoë) – Did you know having ADHD makes you more at risk for smoking cigarettes and more “deeply addicted to them?” Here are 8 ADHD strengths that will help you quit.

Responsibility for Treatment Compliance

Responsibility for Treatment ComplianceOne of the most difficult challenges to overcome when dealing with a mental illness is the temptation of the excuse.

With a psychiatric diagnosis comes an excuse for everything. Any bad behavior, lack of motivation, or failure can be passed off as a symptom or the result of an episode. The excuse is always available. Don’t take it.

No one’s asking you to take responsibility for having a mental illness. That’s not your fault.

But you have to take responsibility for your actions and for your recovery. Sure, unexpected things happen as a result of serious mental illness, but most of our behavior is within our control, or at least our influence. And the behavior that most influences our wellness is treatment compliance.

If you have a treatment regimen that works, stick with it. If you had one and left it, get back on it.

While many of us bemoan the fact that we’ll never be well, treatment success rates for mental illness are very high. The National Institute of Mental Health has shown success rate of treatment for schizophrenia of 60 percent, depression, 70 to 80 percent, and panic disorder, 70 to 90 percent.

Compare this to treatment success rates for heart disease of only 45 to 50 percent. But treatment only works if the patient complies with the doctor’s orders. So take your medicine as directed, stay away from non-prescribed drugs and alcohol, exercise, sleep, and eat well. Manage stress. Chances are you will get better. But you’ll lose your excuse. Then you’ll have to start taking responsibility for your actions.

Responsibility brings a sense of control. This is important because one who feels he has control over key aspects of his life is most destined for success and well-being. If all things that happen to me, or if my very own behavior, is beyond my control, why should I bother?

But if prescribed treatment brings me a measure of control over events and my behavior, then I can positively influence what happens to me and those I love. I’ll have to get out of bed, get off the disability insurance, go to work, and suffer the challenges that everyone faces. Life may even be a bit more boring. But I can contribute, connect with others, and work toward dreams I may have long ago abandoned. Yes, this can be very hard. I may have to deal with side effects and limitations. I may have to say no when I want to say yes. And compliance can be costly. But wellness is possible.

Unfortunately, access to treatment is not available to everyone. Finding a correct diagnosis and a successful treatment regimen can take years.

But if you have access to treatment, you have a responsibility to work with doctors, counselors, social workers, and any family and friends available to help you to find a successful treatment regimen. And then you have a responsibility to stick with it. Health can be more challenging than illness, but the life that results is always more satisfying.

 

Running shoe photo available from Shutterstock