Fake News Can Cause Real Stigma

At the forefront of today’s debate-happy society is the question of what constitutes fake news and which culprits are relaying said fake reports. What is generally agreed upon, though, is that fake news can do real damage. One such area where irresponsible reporting has done damage is in the field of mental health.



Mental Illness in The News

Dylann Roof, Esteban Santiago, and Brad Hettinger. These are just a few recent names in the news. The common thread between them: They have mental illness and perpetrated deadly shootings. The status of their mental health was often cited as the cause for these heinous crimes.


The tone of these reports and others have fostered a fear of those battling mental illness. Is that fair? Granted, there are instances where people with mental illnesses do newsworthy acts. However, the focus should not be on the mental illness, but rather the crime.



Why is Mental Illness Sometimes Feared?

Fear of those who have a mental illness is due to a lack of understanding. People are not aware of the symptoms of mental illness, how they manifest or even their prevalence. If media news coverage continues to shine a misleading light on mental health issues, they should as well include educational information about the mental illness in question.


A good source for information about violence associated with mental illness is the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the HHS, the overwhelming majority of people with mental illnesses are not at higher risk of doing violent acts. Specifically, only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. On the other hand, those with severe mental illnesses are over ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.



Let’s End The Stigmatic Fake News

It’s time to train our brains to not naturally associate mental illness with fear, violence or crimes. As a society, we need to fight back against the stigmatic media narrative by training our brains that while those with mental illness struggle with a disease, they are not more dangerous or more likely to commit violent crimes. This starts with education. To all the news outlets and those who share information via conversation or social media, let’s begin!


Chaim Ancier
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