How We Treat Our Mentally Ill

Today I have been unable to get onto Facebook.  Actually I can, but apart from read I can’t do anything (and that is torture).  No doubt I will have been reported Missing in Action by now.  I’m not sure if another quake early this morning (the Christchurch alarm clock) cut Facebook’s cable to the city or whether it is just me they are penalizing for who know’s what.

Anyway I have been checking out the news instead, and couldn’t help to notice a New Zealand news site with a title saying Naked man was chewing victim’s face.  You can check it out if you want to, but it’s fairly predictable and I would warn that the video attached is a complete waste of time.

Even before I read this and various US news sites I suspected that this man was mentally ill (although I admit I am no expert), and my concern about how he was treated made me read on.  The police shot him dead.  Apparently the first shot didn’t stop the man in his actions so the police officer shot him several more times and he died in hospital a short while later.

There just seems something wrong with this to me.  Mentally healthy people don’t usually lie on sidewalks naked or, as the report claims, attempt to cannibalize another man (who by the look of the video I wasted my time over) was also, at least, semi-naked.  The MSN report I read finished by suspecting that the attack by the man was fueled by “cocaine psychosis”.  Does this not suggest the man needed help, rather than to be shot dead?

I admit I don’t know the rules the US police force use to determine when they shoot an offender, and I only have what I read in the articles, but it did seem to me that there were a lot of missing facts here, and that to shoot the man dead was a poorly chosen choice.  As regular readers my remember I have little time for guns anyway, so perhaps I slightly biased and if that is the case, so be it.

I guess I really have two problems with this case.  One, is the police action to shoot the man.  But perhaps what fuels me even more is the media response.  The captions they chose to use have been picked to draw attention to the story.  It certainly got my attention.  They are sensationalist to say the least, and then they finish by admitting they know the man was probably mentally ill.  If they were to write without stigma for mental illness, they would have chosen a less sensationalist caption and had some compassion.

It makes me so mad when media do this and they give the impression that all of us are more than likely to act in this way.  Wouldn’t it have been better to ask the question of whether the police handled the situation wisely, and what could have been done to help (both) men.

Am I dreaming?  This reminds me so much of my post from last month A Man Named Jason… And Why I Cried.  Different people, different situation but both cases of the mentally ill being mistreated by both Police and Media.  We have a long way to go before the stigma attached to mental illness disappears.

I’d love to hear what you think…

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

 - Bill Clinton

28 responses

  1. Thanks. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one but it is getting lots of writing done, so I guess that is good. And yes, the story is totally heartbreaking. I hate it.

  2. This is an excellen post–although with devestating parts. I also love the quote by Bill Clinton-he was a man with a way with words. Thank you, too, for including my piece. We clearly, as this shows, have a long way to go to fight stigma. But all together, I truly believe we can do it.

    • You’re welcome… and thank you for your praise. Bill clinton’s quote was a stroke of good luck. How could anyone put it better? I think you’re right, we have a long way to go but all of us chipping away at it has to help.

  3. I’ve complained to my local LIBERAL newspaper about how they flip flop between “Look at these amazing survivors of mental illness” and “Mentally ill man murders girl friend”. They haven’t responded.

    • Isn’t it crazy? Drives me (dare I say it) mental that they seem to have no clues. But it’s still great that you made the complaint. Hopefully when enough people complain they might start to take note.

      • The problem is I don’t think many are complaining. My friend sent them a letter also. We seem to be able to take both messages (the “good” and “bad” mentally ill) and accept that they both exist. You praise depression but condemn psychosis. It’s seen as a fact that people with certain mental health issues are going to do bad things, especially when we label everyone who does something horrible with a disorder. We need to show people what it is we should be concerned about. I’ve had too many people tell me it’s no big deal. They’re wrong.

  4. Oh how this post hits a strong chord with me. I am angered every single time I read and see how the mentally ill are treated by both law enforcement and the media. Sometimes, you get media who appear to be trying to help and show compassion, but more often than not it’s just about the ratings and what will draw in more viewers. Some act as if they care, but really just want the “juicy” details to draw viewers and readers in. This story of the man trying to cannibalize the other individual reminds me of another case recently in the news here in the U.S. It was the case of Kelly Thomas, who was a homeless man suffering from schizophrenia.

    To summarize the sad and horrible events, he was sitting at a bus stop, when police approached him due to a nearby theft. They saw this homeless man who was acting “strangely” and thought he might have been the suspect for whom they were searching. Then, as they approached him Thomas got scared and ran off. He was suffering from paranoia, the very common symptom of schizophrenia. Yet, the police chased him down and proceeded to beat and taze him. A nearby commuter filmed the entire encounter from a distance and you can hear Thomas on the video in the background screaming for his life. They held him down with their bodies and he couldn’t breath, and in combination with the taser pain and them beating him over and over again, he was in agony. You can hear him screaming, “I can’t breathe! and “I’m sorry!” and yelling, “Dad!” That is the most heart wrenching part. He was yelling for his father to come and help him. His father was nowhere near there, but said that his son’s last words will haunt him forever because he couldn’t be there for him.

    Thankfully, the 2 police officers who continued the beating (while others watched) were charged recently with 2nd Degree murder I believe, and will now see a trial.

    It was just awful. They showed Thomas’ pictures in the media as his family wanted the world to see what the officers had done. They showed a picture of Thomas next to a badly beaten man. You can barely tell it’s a person. The poor guy didn’t have a chance. All this because the police did not even think that maybe he was mentally ill, and if they did they sure as heck didn’t care.

    I agree with you that the man from the cannibal case should not have been shot. That is just awful how they deemed his life as lacking value and worthiness of life. I mean heck! If I saw someone trying to chew someone else’s face off, yes I would see something needing to be done, but not just shooting him like a wild animal. I don’t know anymore, though. Maybe it’s just because I fear my own mental illness and don’t want to wind up like that, so I can sympathize more. The way this world views mental illness scares me. It’s no wonder that so many people just throw mental illness terms around – he’s being so bipolar… she’s being all schizo – as if they’re mere adjectives. It’s shows a lack of respect for what others go through. I doubt I’d ever hear someone say, “Oh, he’s being all cancerish.” Of course I never want to hear that, but sadly, the same respect in society does not apply to mental illness it seems.

    • By the way, this was an excellent post! I meant to mention that above, but I kinda got heated. :) This topic always gets me. Thanks for sharing this, though. This is a very important topic that needs to be more widely addressed and acknowledged. Things have to change.

      • Thanks Summer. And don’t worry about getting heated. I completely agree with you and these cases just make me feel sick to the stomach. There is so much ignorance and dis-interest. I hate it.

  5. There seems to have been a lot of similar events happening worldwide at the moment. Perhaps the media is just pushing the ‘crazy’ theme right now. An old man with dementia was recently tasered by British police. Twice.

    In my teens, I was very wayward. I didn’t commit vandalism or cause harm to others in any way, but I ran away from home a lot. Often, the police would bring me back. EVERY SINGLE TIME they were told I had a mental illness and to be gentle with me, but they were rough. They spoke to me like dirt, if they even spoke at all. Once, I found myself in a situation where the police had to get me out of my ex-boyfriend’s house. My boyfriend was much older than me, and abusive, and I was too mentally unwell to make judgements, and under the age of consent.

    The police burst into the house, without letting anyone know. They ran straight upstairs and into the bedroom (where I was naked), pulled my boyfriend away from me and one policeman – all 6ft of him – JUMPED on me to hold me down. My crime? I’d sat up in bed and pulled the duvet over myself. Apparently, this was seen as threatening behaviour.

    I know not all police are ignorant of mental illness. Far too many are though, and it’s disgusting. People shouldn’t be dying because they’re sick. It’s not like they can help it.

  6. This is a very sad story. I am stunned to hear that the man was actually chewing another person’s face. I am not condoning the police’s actions but I suspect they were terrified at what they saw and felt that the best way to save the victim was to shoot the mentally ill guy. It sounds a bit harsh but bear in mind, the media does not always report all the facts of the story.

    • Actually I think the media has done a terrible job of reporting this but I did watch the video which mad me really question how the Police handled it. I also feel that they could shoot to stop someone doing this without shooting to kill (especially when they suspected he had a mental illness and so needed help). I don’t at all support what the man was doing, it’s just the way it was handled that I have a problem with. But thanks for your comment/

  7. I agree with you. The media has a tendency of distorting the facts. After all, the more sensationalism, the more it sells papers!

  8. Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog! :) I hate it when news sensationalizes everything but don’t give a crap about the real issues. Great writing and good points! Also, I don’t think it’s right that the police shot the man either- why so quick to resort to violence?

    • Thanks, and thanks for stopping by mine too. The extreme violence just doesn’t make sense and what saddens me is the numbers of people who are perfectly okay with it. That is scary.

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