Objects in the Media Are Often Smaller Than They Appear

by Bill Brenner on September 25, 2013

After yesterday’s post on the Washington Navy Yard massacre fueling the stigma around mental illness, I got the usual assortment of feedback after that post published.

If you’re for gun control, you told me I was minimizing the reality of gun violence by suggesting more gun control laws will accomplish nothing. Those of you who don’t see this as a gun control issue took me to task for picking on NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre for suggesting the mentally ill be committed.

Mood music:

One good friend commented, “What he REALLY said was ‘that the nation needs to do more to lock up mentally ill people who are dangerous.’ He did not make a sweeping generalization about the mentally ill, just the subset that are dangerous.”

Truth be told, I agree with a lot of things LaPierre said on Meet the Press. The mental healthcare system is broken, especially in the schools. I also agree that it takes good guys with guns to stop bad guys with guns and that security personnel at military facilities need to be better armed.

My main criticism here is with the media, which sliced and diced his words to make more dramatic headlines suggesting people are homicidal maniacs if they are mentally ill.

Wife and OCD Diaries editor Erin Brenner said of the phenomena, “Shocking things, like mass murders and mentally unstable people committing murder, get over-reported so that we think there’s an epidemic.” I agree.

I’ve been a journalist for most of my career and will believe in freedom of the press until my dying breath. But we also have the freedom to ignore the press. In my case, I try to find the more objective news sources and avoid the loud, obnoxious networks that are guilty of over-hyping the causes and effects of national and global tragedies.

Perversely, the hyperbolic drama of the mainstream media is contributing to the mental illness of many. When I was at my worst, I watched the news nonstop. If there was a shooting in London or LA, it may as well have been right outside my bedroom window, because in my sickness, that’s how it felt. The music and graphics TV news used magnified the feeling exponentially.

Is there a mental illness epidemic? Yes, but there always has been. Depression and mental disorders have been woven deep into the fabric of humanity since the beginning. But people are much more open about it than they were 20-plus years ago.

You could say that’s good, because a society more open about mental illness is more capable of devising remedies. Or, through the filter of mainstream media, you could say it’s bad; that recent shootings were the handiwork of mentally sick people. Therefore, there’s a mental illness epidemic, and if a depressed soul acquires a firearm, watch out. The truth is probably more of the former than the latter.

Just remember: Objects in the media are often smaller than they appear.

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