CEO Update - What did we all do to stamp out stigma this week?

Lachlan Searle

The shooting in Texas this week and loss of 26 innocent lives, once again broke our hearts.

The senselessness of such violence and the burden of yet another horror to add to our collective psyche. As if this was not enough, what came next appalled me, and many of you too.

The President of the United States of America, described by some during his international trade tour as the “Leader of the Free World”, made the following statements in the immediate aftermath of the shootings:

“I think that mental health is your problem here…”

“This isn’t a guns situation. We could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it…”

“This is a mental health problem at the highest level…”

The comments were taken up and broadcast by the international media almost immediately, without any thought to the stigma they were creating. 

At the time I tweeted: Hey @realDonaldTrump have you noticed Australia has #mentalillness but no mass shootings? Clue: its about #gunlaws #GunLawsNow

But for me it is worse than that.

Why is the media so quick to broadcast the stigmatising comments of the President, made (by his own admission) in the absence of facts and analysis?

What impact do these comments, and the associated media coverage, have for those who experience mental illness, or who know someone that does?

We know people who experience mental illness are overwhelmingly the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators.

We now know in this particular case the perpetrator had: military training ending in discharge; a history of violent acts and threats; access to military grade weapons. Did it occur to the media that any of these factors might have been more significant than his mental health?

We also know that stigma and discrimination prevent people from seeking, rather than promote it. The media know this too.

In the aftermath our colleague Marc Bryant from Everymind said ‘We need to call the media on reporting this without questions. Start by reporting to @SANEAustralia stigma watch’

Marc is right. How many of us were outraged by these comments? How many of us immediately recognised the myth they perpetuated? How many of us braced ourselves for calls from our friends, family and colleagues living with mental health issues who we knew would be distressed by this reporting?

How many of us took a few moments to note the media outlet and the reporter and send the details to Stigma Watch so that action could be taken?

I know I didn’t. I know I should have. And I know I will next time.

The fact that it’s a ‘world leader’ using stigmatising language means we need to be even more vocal in raising our concerns. We all have voice, and our voices a real, not fake, provided that we use them.

Warm regards,

Frank Quinlan, CEO Mental Health Australia

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