The Contagion of Mental Dis-ease

After my first memoir, Four Rooms Upstairs, was self-published and named Finalist in the 2008 Indie Book Awards and before my current memoir, She’s Not Herself, is now (2016) celebrating its second anniversary, I wrote in my weekly blog, A Psychotherapist’s Journey, The Contagion of Mental Dis-ease.
I came across it this morning when I was flipping through a folder that holds all the blogs that I’ve published, and was struck by the similarity of situations seven years ago that led me to write what I did and noted that, if anything, the mental dis-ease about which I wrote has only become more prevalent. Hence, my choice to reprint it here (adding only one obvious/current event that affects our world and our mental dis-ease of this moment)

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The Contagion of Mental Dis-ease.

If only we could discover an anti-hate vaccine to prevent the hatred that seems to be mutating from country to country, from adults to children alike, not only in the far reaches of the world but here at home in the good, old United States of America!

Some argue that there is no increase in crimes on college campuses, that there’s no increase in crimes against women, that there’s no increase in hatred toward any minority group, and these same folks also believe that there were always wars being fought and that we, in the 21st century, are experiencing all that those who have preceded us have experienced throughout the ages. Their favorite argument is that we just read more about it because of the easy access to the news via the internet and the media in general.

While I’m not unaware of the power of the media and of course it is true that it does make everything more accessible to us these days, I don’t believe that’s the whole story. Because I don’t, and because I believe it’s a subject we must address, I will also say that it saddens me to write a blog about hatred and what it says about us as a people, no matter what our racial, religious, or economic status may be.

Unfortunately, statistics do support my belief about the spread of this disease.

The number of incidents of documented hate crimes, religion/biased hate crimes bounce around but remain statistically high with hate crimes against Muslims currently the highest of all minorities.

I don’t take it lightly when I read about so-called “incidents” in schools where students attack other students. Case in point: In late October[2009] students from a suburban St. Louis middle school allegedly hit Jewish classmates during what they called hit a Jew day. Apparently, it began harmlessly enough with a hug a friend day. Then prior to hit a Jew day there was a high five day and a hit a tall person day.

In other schools there was a kick a ginger day (referring to all red headed students), and the latest incident was in Naples, Florida, where yet another hit a Jew day occurred, injuring several Jewish students.

I don’t consider such acts to be merely childhood pranks, and I do fault the principals and schools that have decided to slap the hands of the perpetrators and do little else except, in some instances, to offer classes in tolerance or one-day of in-house suspension.

Tolerance? The message in such classes does not register with the perpetrators as they represent a societal symptom, a fast spreading disease, a hot hatred, and one that I believe is contagious. The offenders may be–for any combination of reasons–ripe for mischief and attracted to receiving negative attention, even at the expense of their peers. They were not though, simple mischief makers or bullies. They may have had their ideas spurred on by the movies they watch, the video games they see which have graphic scenes of violence, or the endless media coverage of crimes, all of which give them the impetus to “play” copy-cat, but what they suffer from is not necessarily a genetically inherited disease or one due to a mob mentality which believes it’s simply committing an un-punishable prank. It’s hatred, outright hatred perpetrated against anyone or any group that’s different from them and whom they consciously decide to target and attack. The students in Naples, Florida are a symptom of a wider disease. Let’s not forget the Columbines of these past few years.

However few or many they may be in numbers, those who seek to commit acts of violence and even worse, murder, are in desperate need of attention, with no conscience and no thought or care of about possible consequences for their victims or themselves.

The good news though, is that the mental health of our children and the generations that will follow ours is still–though limited–in our hands. Just as it is currently every family’s right and responsibility to decide on choices for their children’s physical health, it is also every family’s responsibility to monitor their children’s mental health. We can’t take on the world, but we can commit ourselves to being role models for those in our care, teaching them above all else respect for others as well as self-respect. And that starts from the very top, from the President of these United States to all those whom we wish our children to admire and feel cared by–the firemen, policemen, all their teachers, and all who are in visible and actual positions of authority.

Only then will our best and brightest devote their lives to the betterment of our world and to eradicating or at very least minimizing the numbers of people afflicted by the dis-ease of hatred.

I see that as being our only hope for lessening the power of the few over the many, the diseased over the healthy, the destructive over the productive.