Media, Mental Illness and Race

In recent years, the media has focused more on mental illness. That should be a good thing right? Not always. In the past few years, we have been hearing about mental illness in relation to violent acts. Cases like Elliot Rodgers, the 2012 Aurora shooting, and Sandy Hook have drawn mass media attention and many pointed to the perpetrators supposed mental illness as a reason as to why these men committed mass murder. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators but because stories like this, many people think that mental illness equals violence tendencies.

There were different motives in each case, however they all have something in common: young, middle or upper class white men committed the murders. Each time a white man commits mass murder, the media points to mental illness as the cause. This excuses the behaviour of murders and vilifies those with mental illness. Compare this media attention to that of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or John Crawford (a young man murdered in a Wal-mart because he was holding a BB gun, which was sold in store); when these men where brutally murder while unarmed, there was very little sympathy for them in the media. Martin was branded a thug and Crawford seemed to be blamed for simply picking up an item on the shelf. Let’s say these men were armed, let’s say they shot first – how would the media react? Would they defend these young men, say they were mentally ill, not in control of their actions? I highly doubt it.

There is another aspect of this; the media portrays mental illness as something that only affects white, middle class people. When I was younger, I thought I couldn’t have an eating disorder because I wasn’t tall, blonde and rich. I saw girls with EDs portrayed in the media in a very certain light. Honest and diverse portrayal of mental illness in the media is really important. While the media does discriminate, mental illness does not discriminate.

One in Four will be affected by mental illness. Take a look around; at least one person you know is currently dealing with mental illness. It could be depression, an eating disorder, PTSD, Bipolar, anxiety, etc. Mental illness can manifest in many ways; it does not matter what socioeconomic class you are, what your race is, religion, sex, mental illness can affect you or someone you.

Mental illness is not a white, middle/upper class issue. Mental illness is also not an excuse. I will admit I was an awful person at times when I was deep in my ED. I was mean, rude and a liar. My illness was a reason, but not an excuse. I am in charge of my own recovery. There are things we cannot control when we are mentally ill, especially when we are not getting treatment, but once we are aware of our illness and getting the help we need, we must take responsibility for our actions.

*1 in 4 source: http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

Lapses & Perfection

Each time I have attempted recovery I went into it with the idea that I would have the “perfect” recovery – whether that meant following my meal plan to the letter or exercising a certain way for a certain time, I wanted to be perfect. I spent over a decade trying to be perfect in my eating disorder, and failing.

 

Lapses are a normal part of recovery, there a shitty part, but completely normal. My first lapse, I came to my therapist almost in tears I was so ashamed. I told her how sorry I was for “ruining” my recovery. I thought I was all over because I engaged in eating disorder behaviours. I couldn’t have been more wrong! As I went through treatment and made more friends in recovery, I realized we all struggle, we all trip, we all fuck up. And that is ok.

 

This isn’t just for ED recovery, no matter what you are recovering from: PTSD, depression, OCD, etc. Slip-ups are normal, the main this is that we learn to cope with our struggles in a healthy way. After a lapse, it can be easy to beat ourselves up, feel like we have failed – we haven’t.

 

Often people with eating disorders, anxiety disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have perfectionistic tendencies anyway, so when we bravely attempt recovery and then slip up, it normal react strongly.

 

Lapses are terrible, confusing and scary. Lapses also give us the opportunity to reassess our needs, to practice self -care and to fight even harder for recovery. If you lapse, the best thing to do it is reach out to a friend who you can trust and remember that you are human and perfection is impossible.

 

We will never be perfect in our illness and we will never be perfect in our recovery. We find who we are through our imperfections, there is more to life than striving for perfection. Trying to be perfect through recovery will only hurt progress. Let yourself be human.