Mental illness, the scapegoat

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We keep making the same mistakes.

Let’s stop making mental illness the scapegoat.

When we foist our blame on one issue and one issue only, we are almost always wrong.

Mental health exists on a continuum.

Here’s a question.

At which point does a person cross the threshold from mental wellness to mental illness?

If you look at the DSM-5, you’ll get one answer.

If you look at the media, you’ll get another answer.

If you talk to people about their own lives, you will get an infinite number of other answers.

The answer is this: there is no easy answer.

When we pin deeply polarizing problems, such as gun violence, on categories of people — in this case, people with mental illness — we wrap up mental health in the same extreme and illogical reasoning.

Illogical reasoning will never produce logical solutions.

One of the media’s major responsibilities is to sensationalize. Without the sensationalizing, there aren’t as many viewers. And if the viewers go — so goes the money.

We can’t let something as central to the human experience as mental health get caught up in the vagaries of an ever-shifting news cycle.

We can’t let our perception of mental health be shaped by the randomness of traumatic events and the fear that they cause.

If we form our perceptions when we are in our emotional minds, how can we get to work on the important decisions that require our rational minds?

Memories are more likely to form if there is a strong emotional component to them.

But mental health is a health issue — it’s not just extreme emotions, behaviors, and situations.

Caring for mental health requires caring for our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and our relationships.

Mental health is like anything worth caring about — there is an inherent complexity to it

It’s not a “you have it or you don’t” kind of situation.

It’s a spectrum. And life is lived on a continuum.

But we continue to look for a point on the line that will explain away our fears.

This is the thing — we can’t point to something that is always changing.

If I asked you to identify change, you could point to something and say “that has changed” — but what you’ve pointed to is already in the past.

And that’s true for mental health.

It’s always evolving. It’s different for everyone.

There are no easy answers.

We can put our heads together and come to some sort of agreement of what it means to, in general, be mentally healthy.

But that neglects the heart. That ignores the environment, the culture, and the coexistence.

Pointing to something and saying “mental illness caused that” is too easy

And easy answers rarely — if ever — tell the whole story.

And the story is what we need. The story is where the answers are — in the long, convoluted, circuitous story.

Getting the whole story is hard. It’s tedious. It requires joining people as they recount their ups and downs, their dead-ends and open roads, their everyday drudgery and their lifetime hopes.

We do this for the people we care about. But we don’t do this for everyone.

What if we extended the circle?

What if we cared to learn the whole story not just for our close friends and family — but for our coworkers, our neighbors, and the occasional stranger?

What would that mean for us?

Would we learn something that surprises us?

Would we start to see mental health differently?

I think we would.

We make scapegoats out of people and issues that make us feel uncomfortable.

What if instead of pointing fingers to quell our discomfort, we turned inward to examine ourselves?

The scapegoats go away when curiosity, knowledge, and awareness stand in their place.


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