Opinion: Give mental illness the acknowledgement it deserves

Christina Bucciere is a senior journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]

Christina Bucciere

Last Monday, I returned home from a long day of school and collapsed onto my bed, happy to see my cat Gus was already curled up by my pillow waiting to greet me. Like most cats, he is fickle with his affections, so I was happy to find him in a social mood, until he pounced off my bed and sauntered away to do more important cat things.

“He’s so bipolar,” I said to my sister, but as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back. Just that morning, 13 people were gunned down by a man with an unclear motive. In my mind, his motive had more to do with a mental instability than a cry for vengeance, and I just attributed a diagnosable mental disorder to a cat. This was the first time I thought about my attitude toward mental illness, and it was the last time I would be so careless with my words.

As it turns out, according to U.S. law enforcement officials reporting to the Associated Press, the shooter, Aaron Alexis, had been dealing with mental issues like paranoia, sleep disorder and hearing voices. Alexis had been treated by the Veterans Administration beginning in August for his issues.

I don’t know the full story behind Alexis’ mental history or involvement with the Navy, but I feel fairly certain that there was a larger issue at hand festering in his mind that caused him to commit such a terrible act, larger and more haunting than a random act of rage. Just as I believe there was a similar dilemma terrorizing the mind of Adam Lanza when he killed 28 people — innocent children — last December.

“He’s crazy,” people said about Lanza. And they are entitled to say so. What else do you call someone who can enter an elementary school and open fire? But “crazy” is a convoluted term we assign to people with mental afflictions we can’t understand. This kind of loose language about mental illness makes light of a serious issue, which is largely out of the sufferer’s control.

We have adopted complex and traumatic mental disorders into our daily vocabulary and turned them into trivial eccentricities, and it has to stop. I can’t count the number of times I have said something such as “I’m so OCD,” when I joke about my affinity for list-making. However, I’m not OCD. I have never been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but other people have. My quirks are not comparable to the ritualistic behavior of a person with OCD. As someone who has dealt with depression for years, I should know better than to belittle someone else’s mental struggles.

Mental illness is causing chaos in our society, and I can’t help but think I have something do with that. My dismissive attitude toward the situation is inexcusable, and it has contributed to the collective, trivializing culture this country has created around mental instability.

It’s much easier to rally behind the elimination of cancer or heart disease, but if we learn to treat mental illness with the same respect as a woman dealing with breast cancer, if we can muster the courage to recognize the toll it’s taking on our country and take mental illness research seriously, we just might start to see progress.