Mental Health ≠ Violence
Nuts. Crazy. Savage sicko. Insane monster. During the anger and rage surrounding the horrible Parkland shooting, all these terms have been thrown around to describe Nikolas Cruz and by extension, the mentally ill. Statistically, 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffers from mental illness in a given year; that’s 18.5% of our population. By using these terms and calling mass shootings a “mental health issue,” we’re incriminating 43.8 million people and calling them, including myself, dangerous.
Let’s break this down. Mental health does not equate to violence. Yes, Nikolas Cruz suffered from depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and autism. Yes, he reportedly used antidepressants. But no, the mentally ill are not dangerous because one mentally ill person was.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, only 3-5% of violent acts can be traced back to people living with a serious mental illness. In fact, those with severe mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims of violence than anyone else. Now this isn’t to say that the mentally ill can’t do bad things. What Nikolas Cruz did was deplorable. Reprehensible. Tragic. As with any group of people, some individuals with mental illness pose a risk. Nikolas Cruz did, but not all of us do.
The majority of mentally ill people will never be violent. But we will continue to be stigmatized if we throw around misnomers like “crazy” and “sicko.” We will be mislabeled if the media continues to paint the mentally ill as dangerous and deranged. We will be misunderstood if we suggest institutionalization as a solution for psychiatric disorders. And we will be mistaken if we synonymize mental illness with violence.
In short, going to therapy doesn’t make you dangerous. Taking antidepressants doesn’t make you a threat. Being honest about your mental health doesn’t brand you a criminal. What we do need, though, is to give mental illness serious attention and treatment without the stigma of violence hanging over its head.