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/

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