Dear Media: People With Mental Illness Are Not Monsters -- Stop Making Them Look Like They Are

We beg people who are suffering and suicidal to get help while at the same time shaming and stigmatizing them. We give mixed messages. Our shame is dated, unethical and cruel.
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Dear Media,

I get it. I get why you constantly scare people. Fear gets higher ratings than brilliance.

But I am wondering, have you thought about the ramifications of portraying people with mental illness as evil, scary monsters who commit heinous crimes? Of telling only one story about mental illness? Of perpetuating the harmful stigma and then completely dropping the topic?

They are devastating.

One of the things that happens is that people who are suffering don't get help. Why would anyone want to admit that they are struggling with their mental health when they might be stereotyped as a terrible, crazy person? When they never see any hopeful cases of people receiving treatment and leading wonderful, productive, happy lives? When they bring up the subject and their friend rushes off to get a drink refill...

We make people feel isolated, alone, and like freaks.

We beg people who are suffering and suicidal to get help while at the same time shaming and stigmatizing them. We give mixed messages. Our shame is dated, unethical and cruel.

We are losing almost 3,000 people to suicide every day. This isn't just a startling statistic, it is someone's precious son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, etc. It is someone's beloved family member or dear friend that they have tragically lost.

What if you talked about how brilliant author JK Rowling (who wrote the Harry Potter series) struggled with depression? About successful author/psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison, who has bipolar disorder? What if you highlighted one wonderful person per month who is thriving in their community as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, football player etc, and has a mental health condition? What if you said, "See these fabulous people? You can be like them."

What if you showed people with mental health conditions' beauty, strength, and value?

What else happens because of the stigma that you perpetuate? Society turns their back on this population. Mental health care is inadequate, difficult to navigate, expensive or unavailable.

A person, who is suffering greatly, calls for a psychiatry appointment and is told there is a three month wait to be seen. Their voice breaks as they beg for something sooner. The secretary hangs up. This is unacceptable.

People are going off medications that they can't afford (or stopping them because they are shamed for taking them by people who have no clue about mental illness). People are drowning in debt because their care is so expensive and insurance companies "have to deny this claim, ma'am/sir." (And that is after a one hour wait to speak to a human being.)

The last thing someone needs who is in chronic emotional pain is crushing debt and silence from their community and medical providers. The last thing they need is an uneducated public telling them their illness is a character flaw. They are treated like they are children, subhuman and a burden to society. They are calling for help and hearing silence. They are calling for help again; still silence. People are giving up.

Their support system is nil. Communities, friends and family have no idea what to say because no one has taught them how to be open about mental health without shame. Kids and teens who are struggling don't even know what is happening to them and that there is relief and hope for them in treatment. They see their future as bleak and doomed when it can be bright and successful.

We show them one dark, scary picture. We have to show them the possibilities. We have to help them paint when their hand is shaking. We have to give them the tools they need to change the picture. We have to show them that their life can be a work of art.

Even professionals/companies/the government just look the other way.

What if instead of shaming and calling people weak, we celebrated people's strength for getting help? What if instead of making a person, desperate for care, wait weeks or even months for an appointment we provided excellent, immediate care? What if instead of turning our backs, we opened our arms?

We are making the next Mozarts fear that they are horrible people when they could be composing sonatas. We are making the next Lincolns feel they should hide, suffering in the shadows, when they could be the next president. Remember Charles Dickinson? Love Elton John? These are their faces, too.

We also can't keep labeling people who commit heinous acts of violence with the same term used for one in four people in the world who will struggle with a mental health condition. It's absurd. The terminology needs to evolve. A sociopath cannot be called them same term as someone with depression. A person who has no empathy cannot be label the same way a compassionate, successful teacher with bipolar disorder is labeled.

We lump countless people into one group, described by one term (mental illness sounds like the most awful thing ever) and then only using that term in the media when these senseless tragedies occur. We use one term to describe all the mental health conditions and levels of severity of those conditions that occur with it.

The term "mental illness" makes it sound like the whole brain and mind is sick. There's no room in the term for gifts of extraordinary empathy, kindness, brilliance, and creativity that often accompany mental health conditions.

Mental illness is used as a scapegoat for people who won't talk about gun control and then both are eventually brushed aside. I wonder what could be more important than justice for these families, ending the senseless violence, and preventing another parent being told their child is not coming home today.

Yes, mental health care is completely inadequate. This has to change. Our country not serving the people with these conditions and caring for them in the way a civilized nation should.

That being said, people with mental illness as a group are not any more violent than the general population and are more likely to be victims of crimes.

Stop telling one inaccurate story, over and over, about mental illness. Stop showing one face, one type, one set of symptoms, and one label. Stop.

I get that fear means ratings, ratings mean money, money means power.. What could be worth more than that?

I don't know, maybe ethics and integrity? Compassion and justice?

People with mental illness are human-beings who deserve respect and honest representation. These are valuable, thriving, successful community members. These are family, friends, teachers, leaders, artists, and dreamers. They are not monsters. Stop making them look like they are.

Rachel Griffin


If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.


If you have a story about living with mental illness that you'd like to share with HuffPost readers, email us at Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

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