In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Florida, it has been particularly galling and even painful at times, to hear some of the lazy language tossed around carelessly on cable TV, in newsprint and even from the President himself.
The words we choose to use are important. They help to frame the parameters of debate. They can inform and influence others and colour and persuade. They can help us to develop empathy for each other or they can separate and insulate us against one another. Words are a form of magic, which is why we possibly call it "spelling".
I wonder how it feels to be dealing or struggling to cope with mental health issues in this climate of blame and projection in the United States of America? Where all those with a mental illness are now suspected of being potentially dangerous.
When even a President casually uses words like " crazies, nutjobs or ""psychos" , he is using the limited language of a oorly educated teenager or school child who has no real empathy with or basic understanding of mental health issues.
The great majority of gun owners in the USA are apparently law abiding, responsible and normal. So are the vast majority of people coping with diagnosed mental ill health issues. The world is not filled with gun toting "schizophrenics" , armed with AR 15s, determined to do us all harm.
But you would find it hard to pick this fact up from the adrenaline fuelled discussions on American television in the days and weeks after the shooting. There was barely any measured discussion around the issues that were raised. Everyone had to sound like an instant expert and have a forceful point of view. It was fast and furious, leaving little time for rationality and the possible airing of different ideas. The parade of glib talking heads at Fox News were probably the worst offenders but the other channels fared only slightly better, in my experience at least.
Clearly, any individual who carries out unthinkable atrocities that kill or hurt others is unbalanced, unhinged and likely in need of urgent support or help. It also looks like many intervention opportunities were missed in Florida and this became clear as we learned more of social postings and threats that were disclosed after the event itself. They clearly need to review their procedures there. Join up dots more quickly and carefully.
A tormented individual who carries out this extreme a form of hatred towards others and society may well be said to be in a state of intense disconnection, from themselves and from others around them. But, in this radicalised climate of fear there is a reactive tendency on the part of interested parties to be rush to quickly apportion blame and here lies the danger.
Here is where the language of the debate sets the agenda, informs discourse and influences policy, whether that be on gun ownership and second amendment rights to bear arms or to look at better and more effective mental health policies that can be put in place for those who are deemed to be at risk, to themselves or to others. And this can begin if it comes right from the top with the policy makers, the deciders and the influencers of other peoples`thinking and beliefs. In this case, the current temporary occupant of the White House. I wasn´t hopeful.
As well as looking at the causes and who we can blame, we must look more deeply and more maturely at these recurring phenomena, events that leave unbearable pain and loss in their wake and an entire nation in a deep state of traumatisation. Here is when the words we choose to use can matter so much.
Statistically, it is interesting to note that people with a diagnosis of mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than those who have no established diagnosis. They are generally more vulnerable to being bullied or exploited by so called "well" people within their own communties.
Every day the law courts are filled with individuals charged with murder, assaults, battery, threatening behaviour etc and most of these folk will have no disorder or diagnosis attached to them. We regard their acts as moral or criminal behaviours that the courts will punish on our behalf. And this all takes place with very little by way of comment in the press, apart from the standard court reporting that every home town newspaper provides for its´ readership.
Readers sometimes use words like "evil" or "depraved" in the comments section on websites to describe these people in specific cases. If you suggest a person needed support or help you may find yourself being called a "do gooder" or a " snowflake liberal" and in this way the debate and discussion quickly take on the characteristics of a binary puzzle, where there is no middle ground available. Mad or bad.. You can decide based on your own feelings, your own individual unconscious prejudices, your own inbuilt bias. It is a very emotive experience and one which taps deeply into our anxieties, our primitive fears. So we tap out a comment on the forum..
And now we come to the President of the United States himself. An old man who avoided going to Vietnam but dreams himself as a brave hero. A man who claims he would have run into a building unarmed, where a young man was spraying bullets from a machine designed for high speed battlefield mutilation of enemies. He was using a fast firing assault weapon that can be bought easily by almost anyone. Maybe this is where the some of the "real" madness" lies......
Mr Trump had to go seek counsel from the NRA, which led him to quickly suggest that school teachers should carry concealed guns and that, if they had them, a teacher could have "shot the hell out of him", a statement that contained no real insight or thought into the possible risks and outcomes of this course of action. Teachers in classroom gunfights with armed and angry shooters? Clint Eastwood action movie fare and straight from a comic book for teenagers. A fantasy which I suspect will go nowhere very useful.
Fox News host Sean Hannity called urgently for armed guards on every school floor and that we should "secure the perimeters", turning places of learning into a sort of militiarised fortress. It reminded me of the panic induced responses on the same shows to the events of 9/11. Fear is a big factor on Fox and frightened people might believe almost anything.
Everyone on the panel discussion instantly agreed with Hannity, such was the grip of collective anxiety. The real psychosis was evident there and unfolding right in front of us. All we had to do to see it is watch the TV screen.
The suggestion was that school teachers will have weapons and armed ex soldiers to supplement the teachers fire power. There should be even more guns to keep everyone in school safer. To some it seems rational, to others insane, but I fear for the young of America who have yet to be schooled, with these people setting the cultural tone and leading the national debate, shaping the physical and emotional landscape of their future. A future where fear predominates.
So, now I say it. People dealing with mental health challenges have got enough on their plates.
They do not need or deserve to be spoken about collectively in ways that show no caring for truth, no connection to their lived experiences and daily struggles to keep on going. The unthinking use of perjorative terms on TV , such as nutjobs and psychos. No one in the UK has used these terms since I was at school in the 1960s! Then we began to learn to be mor nunaced in our language as we learned more about the realities of mental health, recovery based thinking and appropriate language to describe others who are struggling with their experiences.
These panellist did not realise it but they are reflective statements that unconsciously say more about themselves than the people that they were talking about. Shall we talk about narcissistic personality disorders now? Mania for power? Inability to reason? Believing your own bullshit? Because if we do, then we may have to start discussing you guys up there on the screen in your expensive suits and in the now beyond tarnished and possibly irrevocably ruined Whitehouse.
Folk battling with mental distress do not deserve to be collectively shamed or victimised by the press and media for the actions of a few sad and alienated individuals. They are a silent majority who can only watch and listen to this debate with growing sadness.
They do not have a unified voice or an organisation that helps to represent them in matters like this so, when the media says whatever it wishes to and with no consequences. They are easy targets for the lazy, who need to project their own fears and anxieties onto others and via the media, into the public domain. The space where we all try and live together and, for the most part, fairly peacefully.
Sadly, there was not one individual taking part in any of the discussions I witnessed to challenge the use of stigmatising and over generalised language, let alone the ideas that were put forward. People with mental illness were now a potential threat, it seemed, to add to all the other prejudices they must endure.
The ignorance, the lack of understanding. And all predicated on a rare, if tragic phenomena. One boy, a troubled life, access to a high grade killing weapon and fuelled by a ton of burning internal anger.
The kids from the school and others will do their best to keep the conversation going. They want to be safe. They do not wish others to feel their pain. They will march on Washington and be laughed off and sniggered at by the lackeys posing as reporters at Fox News. . But they will have a voice on that day.
I suspect that the NRA and some compliant elements of the mainstream media will do whatever they can to make that story also fade into quiet oblivion. All those tears and broken voices will be wiped from our screens. Until the next tragedy plays itself out yet again.
The young people of America are the futire of that great country and they deserve so much more from the political "elites". So do those dealing with fragile self esteem and challenging mental health issues.
But I do sometimes wonder, with a population increasingly reliant on pysychiatric medication in order to function or cope, if American culture itself needs examining more deeply? The extremes and excesses, its` over militarisation, its obsessive self aggrandisement and the ever increasing debt.
What about the constant flag waving appeals to patriotism which informs the manufacturing of consent for incessant foreign wars and condition the citizens into unthinking, unquestioning allegiance?
All in all in, a pathologising combination of energies that possibly drives many of its´ thoughtful and gentle citizens into deep states of hopelessness and despair. Hence the high prescribing rates. A better world must come, surely?
Perhaps these young folk we hear speak out so eloquently now will bring a change. Maybe they are the ones who will grow up to wrestle the wheels of control from the current crop of elderly white male dinosaurs and their followers.
May they do so and help steer the world power that is still America into brighter times. For all our sakes.
Activist/ Health worker/ 20 years. Specific interests : wellness/ voice hearing/ coping/ exploring/ sharing/ stigma reduction.