Skip to main content

In Grief, Stereotyping Mental Illness

Meredith Polsky

Written by Ari Neeman
Originally published in The Jewish Week, December 18, 2012

Every American reels with shock and horror in the aftermath of school shootings like the one this past Friday in Connecticut.

But for the millions of Americans with neurological or psychiatric disabilities, another emotion is inevitable. For us, the news carries a special kind of terror alongside the mourning: how soon until we are blamed?

Shortly after rumors began to circulate that the shooter, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a talking head psychologist opined on CNN that autistic people have “something missing in the brain, the capacity for empathy.”

In the days following, one popular essay entitled, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” went massively viral, giving a Boise, Idaho mom a platform to equate her 13-year old child exhibiting psychiatric problems with nearly all the recent mass murderers in American life. Closer to home, as soon as the news broke I and my colleagues at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network found ourselves immersed with a flood of frightening and sad messages from Autistic adults and children fearing the inevitable reaction that would emerge against us in our schools, workplaces and communities.

Though both autism and mental illness are more common than many realize, most Americans will not ever know the unique brand of fear and despair of being branded as a potential dangerous and unfeeling monster. Perhaps that is the point of such exercises. The rush to attribute culpability to a minority after an act of mass murder is a rush to exonerate the general public – how can we specify the ways in which the killer was not “one of us”? When the shooter comes from a racial or religious group, this is a relatively simple if despicable enterprise. When they are just another white male, the only remaining option is to locate a disability diagnosis. Such a convenient way for normal society to distance itself from the inconceivable! (Read more…)

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.


Start typing and press Enter to search