Defeating the Mental Stigma

2013-01-25T02:10:00Z Defeating the Mental StigmaBy Kimberlee Kruesi - kkruesi@magicvalley.com Twin Falls Times-News

TWIN FALLS • When James Sandlian first heard news outlets label the Newtown, Conn. shooter as “mentally ill,” his first instinct was to worry.

“I have a mental illness,” Sandlian said, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia close to 16 years ago. “Am I capable of this?

His second thought wasn’t any more encouraging.

“Something that horrific is scary,” he asked. “What are people going to think of me now?”

On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults after invading an elementary school building. The tragedy sparked a national discussion among politicians and health officials about finding a way to provide more education and funding for mental health services.

However, some of those struggling with mental illnesses — along with those providing mental health services — are concerned about automatically labeling a shooter as “mentally ill.” Without a thorough medical diagnosis, it becomes easy to reinforce a negative stigma that the mentally ill are prone to violence, said Bill Aldrich, owner of the Community Support Center in Twin Falls, which provides services for people with mental disabilities, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression.

“There is a stigma, but everyone goes through different struggles,” he said. “It’s your actions that should determine who you are, not your illness. Most people with mental illnesses work every day to maintain a healthy and stable life.”

According to the American Psychological Association, Americans are twice as likely to believe mentally ill people tend to be violent than they were in 1950. Yet, in reality, the numbers point to the opposite. Most people with mental illness are more than twice as likely to be victims of violence when compared to the general public, APA reported.

It is still undetermined if Lanza experienced a psychotic breakdown, but in the meantime it’s imperative not to condemn those with mental illnesses, said Amy Bearben, chief nursing officer at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.

Bearben said she works to encourage more mental health outreach in the community to help dispel myths about the mental disabilities.

“Nobody wants to be labeled as ‘crazy.’ Our goal is to reduce the stigma,” she said. “We want to let families and individuals know that there are services in our community.”

For Teresa Bennett, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and severe anxiety, watching how the public handles mental illnesses after a horrific event like a school shooting is difficult.

“People are just generally afraid,” she said. “There are mental illnesses that do go left untreated but it doesn’t have to be that way. Community outreach, community centers and education can help reduce the stigma.”

After going through multiple doctors and several medication trials, Sandlian is now in control of his mental illness. He takes his medications, visits his doctors and uses yoga as a stress reliever. Yet he still encounters people who look alarmed when he tells them he has a mental disorder.

“I can’t control what people think of me,” he said. “I can try to change my behavior, take my meds and continue taking care of myself. But I think it’s important to know there are plenty of murderers in prison without a mental illness. Yeah, if you don’t treat mental illness or try to ignore it, something may happen. But that’s not the case once you seek treatment.”

Copyright 2015 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. Accountability
    Report Abuse
    Accountability - January 25, 2013 8:47 am
    With all due respect to people cited in this story and its author, I take issue with the last paragraph, in particular: "...But I think it’s important to know there are plenty of murderers in prison without a mental illness."

    That's one prominent view, probably one held by most members of our community. Another point of view, one gaining traction in the fields of psychology and neurology, is the argument that if you behave in such a way as to cause harm to others in ways such as murder, abuse, etc., then perhaps there's something wrong in your brain. It could be a mental illness, it could be a tumor, or it could be some other malady; however the case, the main point is that something is physically wrong.

    That's the extremely lite version of the argument, an argument that is being further investigated and backed by empirical studies.

    The problem with the argument, however, is that it flies in the face of our justice system, the political theories and opinions of the major political parties, and of the religious doctrines held by those in most of Christendom (Protestant, Catholic, LDS, etc.). It, on the surface, seems like it takes away responsibility from the assailant, the aggressor, making them a victim, but very good arguments can made saying that perhaps the individual who causes such harm is still responsible and at the same time a victim.

    The implications of such an idea about the human condition are bit too advanced for our governments, our religions, maybe even our society. As some with mental illnesses can attest, society is susceptible to the logical fallacy that just because all murders have mental disorders, not all with mental disorders are murders; therefore, people with mental disorders would have to deal with this stigma for quite some time.

    The science of such an idea will face even greater opposition than the theory of evolution has. 154 years later, there still is a large contingent of Americans that don't accept the science of evolution, mainly for religious reasons.

    As far as government, it took us nearly 200 years to grant civil rights to people of different colored skin, and its taken even longer for people of different sexual orientation to gain some semblance of social acceptance. Our government will take a long time to accept that evil behaviors are not just random actions of the will.
  2. HaroldAMAIO
    Report Abuse
    HaroldAMAIO - January 25, 2013 8:34 am
    Language is not as easy as it seems, even when it is one’s native language:
    Defeating the Mental Stigma
    I have not seen it put better than your headline. It is indeed mental, and once removed from our mentality, its power is gone. The “stigma” of rape was mental, once the Women's Movement forced us to remove it from our minds we did.
    reinforce a negative stigma that the mentally ill are prone to violence
    By choosing this quote, you reinforced the speaker’s prejudice. Were it not also yours (unlike the “stigma” of rape) you would not have.
    “The” mentally ill is as offensive as “the” Blacks.
    There is a stigma
    You again reinforced the speaker’s prejudice.Were it not also yours, you would not have.
    Most people with mental illnesses work every day to maintain a healthy and stable life
    Faint praise: We earn to the millions, hold every university degree, and every professional, white, and blue collar job. Intellectually you know that, emotionally is another story. Emotion often override intellect.
    According to the American Psychological Association, Americans are twice as likely to believe mentally ill people tend to be violent than they were in 1950.
    I sincerely doubt there is any way to substantiate that claim.
    Most people with mental illness are more than twice as likely to be victims of violence when compared to the general public, APA reported.;
    That claim is half true. Most of the general public is more likely to be victims of violence (than perpetrators.)
    it’s imperative not to condemn those with mental illnesses
    Whew! Condemn us? See historical attitudes toward rape, and in some countries, contemporary attitudes toward rape.
    Nobody wants to be labeled as ‘crazy.’
    And yet you employed that label.
    Our goal is to reduce the stigma
    Community outreach, community centers and education can help reduce the stigma
    There is no humor in this construction: “Reduce” a prejudice means to keep some.

    Language is very often more difficult than it seems.

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