The Media Stigmatizes Mental Illness In The Wake Of Tragedy, And It Needs To Stop
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Politics and Activism

The Media Stigmatizes Mental Illness In The Wake Of Tragedy, And It Needs To Stop

Word choice matters.

The Media Stigmatizes Mental Illness In The Wake Of Tragedy, And It Needs To Stop

The past month has been a whirlwind of grief and subsequent debate in the wake of recent events. On February 14, 2018, there was a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen shot dead. Following this tragedy, people wanted answers. People wanted results. And people wanted someone to blame.

The NRA was soon called upon to release statements.

People were curious: What does this mean for the NRA? How does this association feel about the shooting? What does this mean for our right to carry? Dana Loesch, the spokeswoman for the NRA, took the people’s fear and uncertainty and directed it at the perpetrator of the shooting, among several other sources of blame.

There is much debate to be had about Loesch’s statements, and who the buck is passed to. However, the route she took in assigning blame and the language she used is what I would like to discuss.

The NRA spokeswoman described the shooter as being “an insane monster,” “a madman,” and “nuts.”

This is an illustration of the desperate need for dialogue about how mental illness is discussed in this country.

Now, before anyone goes crying about having sympathy for the devil, I don’t. I really don’t. I am not concerned about the perpetrator getting his feelings hurt or being branded by the stigma of mental illness. That isn’t the point. The point is the language used in these situations becomes routine when talking about mental illness and further stigmatizes the already largely negative perception of mental illness.

The argument isn’t that this person was not mentally ill and it’s not that this individual didn’t do horrible things. It’s that the language used when discussing mental illness in the wake of tragedy, especially on high profile news channels, has an effect on how people talk about mental health in general in the future.

People internalize these incidents and pair them with mental illness, creating further negative associations and leading to stigma. This is even more problematic when one takes into account how much stigma already exists surrounding mental illness.

Many people don’t know much about mental illness, as it is somewhat still taboo to talk about.

Therefore, when the only discussion or exposure someone gets regarding people with mental illness is language like “psycho” and “nuts,” that’s going to affect the way they think about mental illness as a whole moving forward.

Not only that but labeling people with mental illness as unstable causes those who live with it to sometime self-stigmatize themselves. These individuals begin to internalize these negative stereotypes and opinions, which have been shown to affect esteem, efficacy, and goal achievement.

I understand that the language being used was most likely said in the heat of the moment with passions high. However, when one is given a platform by which to speak about such a sensitive subject, they should be aware of what they say and the way they say it.

Words have meaning and care should be taken when picking the right words to use in the wake of such horror. Statistically, one in four people are living with some form of mental illness. That means one in four people are specifically affected by these words. And three in four people are affected by the way these words shape their opinion of the one in four, as well.

Mental illness is incredibly prominent, not only in our society, but in all of them. It has been throughout history. And as time goes on, I’m sure it always will be. In the interest of progress and doing better for marginalized folks in the future, let’s take a look at the charged language we use in the midst of tragedy.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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