The Myth of Violence Among the Mentally Ill

Sooo, I guess I should start this with a recap of me.

Bipolar Disorder (aka Manic Depression) with possible Schizoaffective Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Anxiety Disorder (generalized and social)
Attention Deficit Disorder
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (after hospitalization)

Onset of illness:
First suicide attempt age 7
First Manic Psychosis age 24

Psychiatric Medicines:
Paxil, Imovane, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Zyprexa, Effexor, Lithium, Epival, Serzone, Lamictal. Currently on Epival, Celexa, and Lamictal.

It’s strange to start with such a basic reduced profile of who I am. It’s really not the whole picture in anyway what so ever. I was an honour roll student, I have a bachelors degree, I’m a filmmaker/video artist, I took care of my mentally handicapped sister while growing up, I read all kinds of stuff, from fiction to comics to academic theory. I watched foreign and independent films since my teen years. I’ve been a feminist ever since I could use the word. I try to keep abreast of current politics and connect it to history. I’ve spent my whole life being involved in my culture as a Cree woman. I was out in high school. I’ve had hamsters, turtles, rats, dogs and cats. I consider my art practice to be political in nature. I’m involved in my communities.

But the fact is, once I tell people my diagnosis, none of the rest of it matters. Suddenly I am Bipolar, a mental patient. I am distilled down to the tiniest essence. Certainly my disorders have shaped my view of the world, my experiences, my beliefs. I’ve tried since my hospitalization to be outspoken on the rights of the mentally ill. It’s hard. The saddest for me is when I’m speaking out about abuse in the psychiatric system and someone else is too, but they distance themselves from me by stating emphatically that they are not crazy. Therefore, they do not deserve the treatment that they got because they’re one of the normals. Another peeve I have is when friends insist I am not mentally ill, when I know I am. I finally accept it. But they can’t accept that about me, because I don’t fit in with what they believe about the mentally ill.

But what I really want to talk about is the myth that we are more violent than the rest of society, what we call the normals. I recently had a squabble with a commenter on another blog about the way the killer of those Amish girls was termed mentally ill by everybody writing on him. She said that schizophrenics were inherantly more violent than regular people. I told her she was prejudiced and should go meet people with mental illnesses. Anyway, it got me thinking. Sometimes when people find out about my illness, they do really weird things, like edge away from me in case I flip and try to kill them. They cut off friendships, I’ve been discriminated against on the job, lovers ditch me because they think I’m high maintanence.

Because people think we’re violent, we start to believe it. A lot of people can’t handle accepting their diagnosis because they’ve been brainwashed with stigma. I know that was a big issue for me. We don’t want to take our meds, we try to handle things on our own, we end up denied housing and living on the street.

Why do people think such bad things about us? A few reasons. People are scared of difference, and what they don’t understand. People generally are not educated about mental illnesses. Take schizophrenia for an example. People CONSISTENTLY think schizophrenia means having a split personality. It is totally different. That’s more like Dissociative Identity Disorder (AKA Multiple Personality Disorder). Also certain symptoms of our illnesses scare the beezus out of people, such as delusions and hallucinations (visual, auditory, and tactile, which is a lesser known hallucination). Some of our symptoms are actually side effects of our meds (shuffling, tics, and shakes).

But probably the worst contributor to stigma towards the mentally ill is the media. Television shows, movies, and news. We’re killers, stalkers, etc etc. And a lot of times a violent criminal who’s a normal will get slapped with the psycho label just to ease people’s comfort levels. As long as it’s THOSE people doing this shit, they don’t have to worry. The fact is since normal people make up the majority, and since violence is the same among sane/insane populations, the majority of violent crime is committed by normals. Also consider that the crimes committed by people with mental health issues get more sensationalized press time. People eat up stories about the looney tune who flipped compared to the methodical killer who amassed an aresenal of guns over a few years.

Since my diagnosis of Manic Depression I’ve spent more time among others of my ilk, people with schizophrenia, DID, OCD, Anxiety, etc etc. Even in the hospital, I have never seen one of us become violent. In fact, the few times in my life I’ve actually been scared for my life has been around normals. I’d much rather have tea with a group of schizophrenics than have beers with a group of normals.

Incidentally, I haven’t assaulted anyone. I have been assaulted five times.

Interesting side note: My shakes. Since getting on psychiatric drugs (particularily anti-psychotic/anti-manic drugs) I’ve had the shakes at certain times, when I’m scared, nervous, upset, doing public speaking, etc. Spilling hot coffee on my hand is the worst. I was trying to figure out where it came from, since I’d never had them B.D. (before drugs). I have a theory now. All of those situations involve rushes of adrenaline, which obviously goes through your brain. It’s probable that medication and adrenaline interacts and produces the shakes. It would be nice if they could get rid of that side effect, because it’s really hard to cover up fear/nervousness when everyone can see you shaking. Whatever. They should just get over it anyway.

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