What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror? A Nut?
The Media Fixation With Violence and Mental Illness
Through the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, The Carter Center has worked for almost two decades to help the media more accurately depict mental health problems. Today, around 40 percent of newspaper stories associate mental illness with violence even though violence as the result of mental illness is rare. People living with serious mental illnesses are more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators. A more common and accurate picture of mental illness is a co-worker with depression, a student with panic disorder, and a child with ADHD. The continuum between mental health and mental illness is a part of each of our lives.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I can think of no better way to celebrate than to draw the focus directly to each one of us looking in the mirror and point out that we all have mental health – we all have “nuts.” And sometimes they get sick, just like other parts of our body. Too often we seem to think that if we acknowledge that our minds and spirits have needs, we will be thrust into the same category as the so-called crazy killer connected to a shocking event splashed across the headlines. The reality is that words like crazy and nuts and psycho can hurt, and they can prevent people from getting help and recovering from illnesses that are so treatable.
Change starts with each one of us. We can teach our children not to use hurtful words, like psycho, weirdo, or insane, to describe mental illness and connect violence and sensational images with illnesses that affect so many of our colleagues, friends, family members, or even ourselves. We also can share our own stories about mental illness to help others see a more accurate and realistic picture. Finally, we can celebrate this Mental Health Month by acknowledging our own mental health – our nut – and finally giving it the focus and attention it deserves.
Rebecca Palpant Shimketsis assistant director for the Carter Center’s Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism and an expert in media depictions of mental illness.
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