In Wake of Colorado Massacre, Please Don't Confuse Me with James Holmes
Author, Jessica Lynn Gimeno
All the eyes of the nation are on Aurora, Colorado right now as they should be. As many of you know, at 12:38 am Friday (July 20, 2012), a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in the town of Aurora killing 12 innocent people and injuring 58 others. These unsuspecting movie patrons came to see the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, on opening night. Like many Americans, when I heard about the massacre, I cried and prayed for the victims and their families. I also thought about my young nieces and nephews and worried about the world they live in.
THE BURDEN PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS CARRY POST MASSACRE
However, in addition to the common reactions most Americans experience, I felt another sensation—fear of being associated with the shooter, a man named James Holmes who I don’t even know. Whenever one of these massacres happens, people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and other mental illnesses brace themselves for the barrage of ignorant statements that immediately follow, even before the gunman has had any psychiatric evaluation. Statements from experts or “talking heads” on television like: He’s probably bipolar! He must by looneytoons. He must have schizophrenia. Mentally ill people should be locked up. But what hurts more than talking heads, some of whom are paid to produce sensationalized moments on TV, is when people I know make these statements—acquaintances, friends, and family. Statements like these are one reason why intelligent, law-abiding, successful people with mental illnesses stay in the closet or crawl back into it. Many of us fear what our loved ones will think of us. So we refrain from building support networks among friends and family. Support networks are people we can rely on in moments of crisis—everyone (with our without mental illness) needs them to weather life’s storms.
CNN ARTICLE SPEAKS TRUTH TO STIGMA
I was relieved by one article I saw on CNN.com (written by Jeffrey Swanson, Professor of Psychiatry at Duke University) that told the truth: Most violent crimes are not committed by people with mental illness. In fact, as I’ve said before in this blog, only 4% of violent behavior can be attributed to psychiatric disorder. And, as Swanson reminds us, “the vast majority” of people with mental illnesses are not violent. That is the overwhelming truth though we usually hear the opposite.
PLEASE THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
If you don’t have a mental illness, please approach this tragedy (and sadly) future ones with caution: First, wait and hear all the facts before making a pronouncement on what the gunman must have been thinking. Second, remember that we can’t blame the entire massacre on one factor whether that’s the shooter’s childhood or any illness. Finally and most importantly, be sensitive in what you say. As a reminder of how powerful words can be, read this post from a 17-year old on our Facebook page:
"Why is everyone suddenly waging a war on those who take psychiatric medication? I for one do. And the media is making us out to be the ones who cause everything horrible in the world. I'm 17 and I already feel a need to hide my mental illness from the world. It hurts and if you have a problem with medication DON'T take them but otherwise stop labeling those who do for everyone to fear. :/ I'm bipolar not a murderer. In fact I want no harm to anyone.”