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Mental illness: The scapegoat of all other problems

Ling Shapiro, Features Reporter

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Mental illness is a global and serious problem that impacts people in a multitude of ways.  There are 450 million people suffering from a variety of mental illness; people all around the world suffer from diseases like autism, depression, schizophrenia, and hundreds more (who.int).  Around 42.5 million people just in America suffer from a mental illnesses.

Yet, the government has taken little action to take care of these people, these 42.5 million people.  Instead of helping them, people with mental illnesses are constantly labeled as a danger to society.  In reality, most mental illnesses are manageable, if not treatable, and most sufferers are still working members of society.

Fortunately, there is progress in mental health studies that has aided in providing a more general public understanding of how mental illnesses impact people.  However, this progress only began in the 1800s with Dorothea Dix.

In the 1840s, Dorothea Dix started psychiatrist wards after seeing the brutal treatment of the mentally ill in insane asylums.  Dix’s devotion to the mentally ill led to her building 32 state hospitals for them in an attempt to improve their living conditions.

Even then, only those that posed a significant threat to society could be admitted into one of these hospitals, and the methods to cure them were cruel.  Early research included seclusion, testing facial expressions, and diagnosing mental illness with a simple head examination (of course leading to many misdiagnoses).

Those deemed dangerous spent the night, or a couple days, in a Utica Crib, an iron cage where they were forced to remain still for days on end.  When a literal cage was deemed too inhumane, researchers created a restraint chair that locked its victims hands and legs to the sides, and often a hood was placed over their head.

After years, people began to try to help and fix these people, rather than just examine them.  This started with introducing harmless patients to normal life activities such as dancing and sowing.  Unfortunately, this progressive move didn’t stop scientist and doctors from experimenting.

Crude methods that disregarded their victims’ welfare were constantly being developed.  For example, electroconvulsive therapy was used on patients with physical ailments such as paralysis and on patients with depression, and it was so underdeveloped in the 1900s that it often resulted in broken spines, memory loss, and convulsions so strong and violent patients would break their own bones (broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk).

Mental illness was a very broad term before it was understood and classified in more specific categories.  People in the 1800s and early 1900s saw homosexuality, disobedient women, and even just angry women as mentally ill (dualdiagnosis.org).  Now, women are not often labeled with hysteria for getting upset, and sexuality isn’t as widely seen as a disease.

The twenty-first century has a much more accepting look at mental illness in a broad sense.  There are medications and therapy widely available, and most of the barbaric practices are gone.  Electric shock therapy— when used correctly— is much less dangerous and now, can actually help with those that are severely depressed or schizophrenic (webmd.com).

Through a mixture of observations, research, and sadly horrible, inhumane experiments (such as the atrocities during the Holocaust and the racist mistreatment of patients throughout the years), an understanding of the human mind and body has been made, and now people with mental illnesses are the most understood they have ever been.

Part of this understanding is knowing that sometimes mental illnesses are irreversible and some people can be deemed dangerous from their behavior.  Yet, with all these advancements hundreds of years in the making, mental illness is still used as a scapegoat for other problems in the world.

Politicians in America blame tragedies on mental illnesses that yes, could have been influenced by their illness, but generally there is a much larger problem at hand.  For example, when schools are attacked and shot up by a deranged man, politicians slap a vague label of mental illness on the incident, disregarding the fact that this person had easy access to deadly assault rifles and other firearms.

This is not comforting nor does it help the victims, or future victims of inevitable attacks if nothing is changed.  All this does is create a stigma around those with mental illnesses, isolating those who need help even further.

Despite blaming the mentally ill for every incident, the government takes no action to help those that do have mental illnesses, and do want to be helped.

If they truly believed it was the mentally ill causing these devastating incidents, they would at least find ways to bar those with mental illnesses from purchasing a gun, right? Wrong. In February 2017, President Trump signed a measure eliminating an Obama era regulation that prevented a list of people with mental illnesses from purchasing a firearm.  It wasn’t a perfect regulation, as it wouldn’t have stopped the most recent terrorist, Nikolas Cruz, from purchasing a firearm, but it was better than nothing.  Instead of taking away this regulation, Trump should be improving it, making it more specific, more strict, and he should be aiming for the safety of this nation.

Mental illness is a very serious problem and it impacts people all around the world, but using mental illness as a cover for more dangerous problems is creating a toxic, unaccepting environment for those who are ill.  Stigmatizing mental health will hurt more than it will help by making it harder to help those desperately in need.  By making the general population scared of people who exhibit their problems, society is hurt, and the world moves backwards.

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Mental illness: The scapegoat of all other problems