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VIDEO: Mental Illness Assumptions

Olivia Epley

Founder of Millennial Girl, Interrupted, a senior in a small Connecticut high school. I've been through many treatments and recoveries and am eager to share the lessons I've learned!

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    I’ve made a video with a list of assumptions that people often make about mental illness, and their refutations. Below that is a brief summary of what I said. I hope it’s informative!

    1. Mentally ill people are violent.
      So around 60% of Americans believe that there is a correlation between violence and mental illness. In reality, there is a shaky at best correlation, and it’s only statistically significant when you factor in substance abuse. Otherwise, mentally ill people are generally no more likely to be perpetrators of violence.

      The most common form of violence among the mentally ill is self-harm. We don’t often think of it as violence, but it is, it’s just not outwardly directed. But that’s an important distinction, too.

      Other-directed violence is typically prompted by different factors than self-directed violence. Anger, revenge, threat management are all other-directed motivators, while self-directed violence is more about control and self punishment. These two sets of factors are immediately at odds, and describe two different types of people engaging in two completely different sets of behavior.


    2. Mentally ill people are smarter.
      This attitude stems from a toxic romanticization of mental illness. There is little truth to the idea that depressed, anxious, traumatized people are some kind of tortured genius. Most aren’t, and it’s dangerous to make mental illness seem so rosy, as if the illnesses are somehow worth it because the sufferer is smarter.

      Plus, there’s the whole Van Gogh thing, which is a real, though rare, problem. If you’re genetically and chemically already a genius at something AND you’re genetically and chemically mentally ill, you’re this tortured artist who can be exploited because mental illness and intelligence somehow go hand in hand and, as a result, the mental illness is both inevitable and productive. Of course, neither is true. Everyone deserves effective treatment, and mental illness isn’t cute, quirky, and it doesn’t make you smarter. It’s harmful and needs to be treated.


    3. White people are more likely to be mentally ill.
      This one really grinds my gears because it really serves to invalidate the plights of non-white communities, as well as dehumanize non-whiteness. Mental illness is indiscriminate and the portrait of a young white girl with her hair dyed black, cutting her wrist is just that; a portrait. Failing to recognize and sympathize with the vast diversity of the mentally ill community ends up perverting the behavior of non-white mentally ill communities while the same behavior is seen as meek and sympathetic in white communities.

      Repeat after me; mental illness can happen to anyone!


    4. Mental illness is the fault of the parents.
      No, and yes. It really depends. Mental illness is a result of a grand mix of environmental and genetic factors. Some illnesses, like depression, OCD and anxiety, are more likely to be genetic, whereas personality disorders and trauma disorders are more likely to be imposed by social and environmental factors, at least in part.

      Ultimately, a person who has no pre-disposition to mental illness cannot be “made ill” by shitty parents. This isn’t to let those parents off the hook. There are abusive, negligent parents out there. I myself wasn’t raised in a way that was conducive to successful mental health. But it’s never just the parents.
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