Letter to the Editor: Describing mental health


graphic by Tyler Herron

In response to Noelle Barrera’s April 4 column, “Admirable movement, flawed manifesto.”

Three metaphors that are, to me, problematic appeared in the article. First, “According to the Guardian piece, if police had known that Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, was ‘disturbed,’ they could have stopped him from harming others.”

That is half the story: The Guardian failed to note that a considerable number of people knew of the danger Cruz presented, were required by law to report it, and did not. To date not one of them has been held responsible.

Second, “People with stigmatized mental illnesses,” a passive voice construction, fails to identify who is doing the stigmatizing. Stigmas do not appear out of the ether, they are pursued by specific people.

Joining them in saying “there is” may not be the route we all want to take. We did precisely that, followed that path with rape stigma for many generations before being made aware of the harm we were were doing by the women’s movement.

Third, “People with mental illnesses” also merits closer examination. People dealing with a mental illness are a broad and diverse demographic, earning to the millions, holding every university degree, and every professional, white, and blue collar job. Generalizing about any such a broad group is fraught with error.

Because words lead to perceptions, and perceptions to actions, carefully choosing the words we employ becomes an important responsibility. Without precision and accuracy, we fail to communicate fact.

Harold A. Maio, M.A., resides in Florida and can be reached at [email protected]