Tiger Beatdown Finally Addresses Mental Illness

April 4, 2011

Kudos to TigerBeatdown for finally getting down to the business of mental illness. This came as a relief, especially after one young feminist wrote to me claiming feminists have better things to talk about than Borderline Personality Disorder. Really? They have time to talk about AIDS, breast cancer and abortion, but they don’t have time to talk about mental illness? Women are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with BPD. It’s about time that feminists start talking about it.

So what prompted SE Smith to write such an article? Gun control. It seems the author feels that the mentally ill have been unfairly targeted by anti-gun legislation. Smith suggests the mentally ill have reasons to own a gun. Uh… really?

Smith claims that mental illness had nothing to do with the shooting spree in Arizona:

We could also talk about the false correlation between mental illness and violence, gun violence in particular, that dominated headlines this year after the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords.

Now hold on for a sec. It’s one thing to say that not all mentally ill people will snap and go on a shooting spree. That I can agree with. But it’s quite another thing to say there is zero correlation between shooting sprees and mental illness. There’s a good chance the shooters at Ft. Hood, Columbine and Arizona all had mental issues. To say there is no correlation is a pretty ignorant thing to say.

Smith clearly has a personal bias here, one that has affected her ability to see clearly:

As a person with a history of mental illness who owns guns, as a person who has lost friends to suicide by gun, this is a story that hit me much like a punch in the gut.

Should we be scared? Owning a gun means that much to you? To be fair I’m biased myself. I don’t really see why people get so worked up about owning a gun. If you love guns so much, join the army or law enforcement. I’ll even buy that some people like to hunt for food. But we don’t live in Frontier Land anymore. And I question why people need guns in modern day society. Gun laws should be discriminatory. And by all means, let’s start with the mentally ill.

I get that Smith feels unfairly targeted (no pun intended), but this is a matter of public safety. This society makes all sorts of allowances for people with mental disabilities. Owning a gun doesn’t have to be one of them. I argue that you can still live a rich life without pulling a trigger to a gun. Common sense dictates that guns and crazy people don’t mix.

That being said, I don’t believe in prohibition. It doesn’t work. If people want guns, they’ll find a way to get them. Especially, crazy people. But I think what Smith is upset about is not so much the prohibition of guns, but the discrimination that is laid upon people with mental disabilities. This becomes clear when the article segues into the argument that mentally ill people are not the enemy but in fact the victims. (where have we heard that before?) Smith notes a fact that I have written about in many posts:

Yet, people with mental illness actually are victims of violent crime at a rate 11 times higher than that of the general population.

Although,when I said it, people accused me of shaming survivors, being an ableist and apologizing for predators. Little did these accusers know that what I was stating was indeed a FACT. And the fact is people who have been victimized early in their lives are targeted by predators again and again. But there I go again, beating a dead horse.

Smith goes on to suggest there are diagnostic disparities:

what is post traumatic stress disorder in a man is borderline personality disorder in a woman

Ah yes, Feminist Theory 101 sneaks back in one more time. What Smith claims here is factually incorrect. Men are also diagnosed with BPD. Not with as much frequency as women. But to say that one is associated with males and the other with females is false. PTSD is not even the same as BPD, although they do tend to be comorbid. PTSD is common with those who suffer from BPD, but it is not an absolute pre-requisite for BPD. PTSD does not equal BPD. They are not interchangeable.  Regardless of this fact, I don’t know if one diagnosis is better than the other. Smith’s argument is that this disparity has led to the stigmatization of mentally ill women alone. But I would argue that the stigma for mentally ill men is much much worse and much more publicized than that of their female counterparts.

Mentally ill men include the likes of Ted Bundy, John Hinckley and Jack the Ripper. Males are more likely than females to commit a violent crime.  If a woman is violent, that violence is usually directed at themselves. But that doesn’t mean a woman can’t be emotionally abusive or violent towards others.

The fact is abuse by borderline women often goes unnoticed, undiagnosed and untreated. Victims of borderline partners or mothers are scoffed at, when they talk about their abuse. Mostly because we have this pre-conception that abuse must be physically violent to be legitimate. Psychological abuse is deemed to be lower on the hierarchy of abuse. Even by so-called anti-abuse advocates.

The stigma for the mentally ill (male or female) is sometimes justified. When a mentally ill person snaps and lashes out at you, you can understand why they are treated with extreme prejudice. There’s a reason why therapists shy away from treating borderline women and men. It’s not because of their gender. It’s because people with BPD have a documented history of abusive and manipulative behavior. It’s because partners and children of borderlines are left traumatized for the rest of their lives. This is not a vast conspiracy against the mentally ill. This is a legitimate basis for fear of the mentally ill.

Smith does redeem herself with this closing statement:

If you want to prevent suicide, start by providing mental health services to all members of the population for free or at low cost, and without stigma. Focus on outreach to women with symptoms of mental illness who  have been told to ‘suck it up’ and ‘deal with it,’ who are told that they’re simply being overemotional and irrational. And start combating the unacceptably high rates of sexual assault, abuse, and violence against people with mental illness.

Ah finally, something I can get behind. We do need to encourage the mentally ill to seek help.  Last month, I made the same argument. But clearly the message is easier to swallow when it comes from one of their own. Which is fine. I don’t need to get credit.

We should make these services more accessible. But the sad fact is even if you did make mental health services more affordable,  many of these people would still avoid treatment. Denial is a huge part of disorders like BPD. Chances are they will continue being over-emotional and irrational. Statistics prove they will continue to be victimized and re-victimized.

All the more reason for these people to get treated. When mentally ill people no longer abuse their partners, their children or other members of society THAT will make things easier for people who have been unfairly judged because of their disabilities. Then and only then will the stigma subside.

But this requires building awareness and talking about mental illness. It requires all of us to snap out of our collective denial. Stop looking the other way and giving free passes for those who have been victimized. It requires friends and family to intervene. It requires those with such disorders to start being honest with themselves and seek the treatment they need.

This is not just a feminist issue or disabilities issue. This is a common sense issue.

3 Responses to “Tiger Beatdown Finally Addresses Mental Illness”

  1. savorydish said

    Quote found @ GarlandGrey.com:
    People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest. -Hermann Hess

    Hmmm. Is Garland talking to himself again? I would respond to this quote by saying that the sinister often characterize themselves as people with courage and character.

  2. Driver said

    I agree, SD.

    The article, itself, was only written because a woman was injured. They always seem to come back to how the poor woman was injured (no articles on the man being injured?).

    Also, no link between mental illness and shootings..yes, pure crazy talk. The shooting at the Naval Shipyard (recently)…another example (fact, not fiction).

    I believe Americans should have the right to own a gun…but Americans with a mental illness? No…sorry. We have to draw a line somewhere (or at least get cleared by a medical professional to own one).

    Would you want someone in law enforcement (with a mental illness) to have a gun? That topic, alone, is another article!

    Scary stuff…but let’s use a little common sense, SE Smith (and Tiger Beatdown).


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