Friday, April 20, 2007

Mental Illness

I have to admit that I am overly sensitive when people talk about things that reflect me. But I had to write about the issues that have been annoying me in regards to how mental illness has been discussed in the wake of the VT shootings.

This is a paragraph from a report by ABC news about the killer within a few days of the shootings.
Some news accounts have suggested that Cho had a history of antidepressant
use, but senior federal officials tell ABC News that they can find no record of
such medication in the government's files. This does not completely rule out
prescription drug use, including samples from a physician, drugs obtained
through illegal Internet sources, or a gap in the federal database, but the
sources say theirs is a reasonably complete search.

If I had just read this article myself, I might have just seen that paragraph as saying that there were no records that the shooter had taken any antidepressants. But it also says something more, which several bloggers I read have pointed out. This means that the government has a database which shows what medications we have taken and are taken. What if you are a politician that the government in power doesn't like and you are taking antidepressants? Don't you think that, even in this day and age, if the press got a hold of that information, in could seriously hurt your chances of election? Or if you have HIV or AIDS? Of if you've ever gotten an STD and had to be treated with antibiotics? We have doctor/patient privelege, but it seems that privacy does not extend to our prescription records.

What really got under my skin is the way that several (usually conservative) commentators have said that Virginia should repeal a state law, the result of a VA Supreme Court decision, that makes it illegal for universities to kick a student out because they are mentally ill. The court decision happened after a VA university kicked a student out after it was revealed that he was suicidal and thus "a danger to himself or others." I even heard Tucker Carlson ask his guest, who is an author of a book on university mental health care, why we shouldn't assume that a suicidal person is also homicidal. Once again, I have to say that I might be too sensitive about this because I suffer from depression and, when not on the proper medication, am suicidal. But I was never homicidal, never wanted to hurt anyone but myself, in an attempt to end the pain. I would hate to think of what my life would be like if I knew I could never go back to school because I had been suicidal at one point and was still being treated for depression. Also, I can't imagine how I wold have reacted if the schools that I went to kicked me out when I was suicidal. I think that would have just added to the awful state I was already in. I have no doubt that the VT shooter was incredibly ill, but he is nowhere near the "norm" of what mental illnes looks like, as if you could say there is a norm at all. As pointed out in this post on Feministe ,
the broad term "mental illness" can be applied to anything from severe schizophrenia to minor depression. Most people seeking treatment for a mental illness are "average", " regular" people. I don't think we should be stigmatizing them any more than they already are.

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