Wednesday on Twitter, a new hashtag took to the top of the trending tab. It was #EndTheStigma.
The idea isn’t a bad thing, though I tend to think hashtag activism is BS in and of itself, but in this case, it might help a little. The idea is to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Now, that’s not a bad thing. People still hear “mental illness” and think “crazy.”
However, mental illness is a spectrum that ranges from things like mild cases of depression or anxiety all the way up to things like paranoid delusions or worse. People know both ends exist but often tend to equate the two far more than they should.
So, yeah, ending that stigma is a good thing.
The problem is, how many of those same people pushing so hard to end the stigma on mental illness also support things like red flag laws or mental health screenings to buy guns?
If so, they’re absolute hypocrites.
First, let’s talk about red flag laws. These laws are predicated on the idea that non-qualified individuals like family members, co-workers, and even the police can make a determination about whether a person is a risk to themselves or others. These laws actually advance the stigma, they give power to the idea that someone who is suffering from mental health issues represents a danger to themselves or the public.
And, honestly, states that include mental health providers aren’t any better. What they do is essentially warn those suffering from mental illness to stay away from the people that can help them because they risk having their guns taken away. For someone whose few joys in life may include hunting or competition shooting, that’s not exactly encouraging them to get help.
Yet as bad as that is, they’re still better than those who demand mental health screenings before being permitted to buy a firearm, if only a small bit.
Mental health screenings are problematic on every level, but for our purposes here, they add to the stigma that those who suffer from mental illness represent a profound threat, such a threat they can’t even be allowed to buy a gun lest they riddle the city with a rain of gunfire.
Again, this simply adds to the stigma that those who suffer from mental illness represent some kind of threat as well as ignoring the constitutional rights of individuals upfront.
Currently, our system already has a way to prevent the truly disturbed from buying guns. They have to be ruled by a court of law, with all due process, that they’re a danger to themselves or someone else. The terminology needs to be updated, though. We don’t call it “adjudicated as mentally defective” in common discussion these days.
But the fact remains that the current system does far more to minimize the stigma of mental illness than either of these two proposals ever would. The current system makes it clear that only a small handful of people suffering from mental illness represent a threat to anyone and that we can address them while respecting the rights of millions of other sufferers of mental illness.
Changing that so everyone and their brother can call for guns to be confiscated or demand a psych evaluation won’t end that stigma. It’ll increase it.