Not too long ago, being diagnosed with a mental illness meant being banished from your family and sent to waste away in an asylum.
Today, especially in places like New York, a wide variety of people seek treatment for everything from depression and anxiety to substance abuse, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
With the advent of Woody Allen and Dr. Phil, the stigma of mental health problems has lessened. But its persistence is reflected in a lack of appropriate health coverage for mental health treatment, as well as a public that’s largely uneducated about the effects of mental disorders.
No place has this been more apparent — and damaging — than in news coverage and policy discussions surrounding the Newtown massacre.
In the aftermath of the shooting, a brouhaha erupted over gunman Adam Lanza’s autism, as though that diagnosis was related to his horrific act.
It was not.
And now, as the country embarks on a policy debate over how best to curb future large-scale gun violence, much is being made of keeping mentally ill people away from firearms.
This is an ignorant, yet understandable, reaction.
In an effort to make sense of the senseless, we look at Adam Lanza and think that surely he and others capable of such intense brutality on masses of strangers could not have been in their right minds.
We even latch onto untruths like the myth that the Columbine shooters were loners and part of a trench coat mafia. Anything to separate ourselves from the monsters we see in these perpetrators.
In New York State, a legislative package just passed that increases reporting requirements for mental health professionals, a move that could have a chilling effect on patients and their doctors or counselors.
Classifying never-before violent patients as somehow unfit to enjoy the rights guaranteed to the rest of society would not prevent mass killings and could even lead to more of them by keeping people from getting the care they need for fear that they will be considered a threat to society and forever branded crazy.