6/18/21: On Andrew Yang’s Comments About Mental Illness

In one statement on a major stage, running for Mayor of NYC, Andrew Yang showed why we’ve been advocating for yrs now, for nonprofits & media outlets to stop leading campaigns & articles w the stat “1 in 5 ppl are mentally ill.”

Leading this way makes the topic of mental HEALTH, a binary one (& it’s not). When the boilerplate is “1in5,” it communicates to the masses that there’s this one fixed grp in society of “sick/mentally ill” ppl, & this other grp of “fine/healthy/normal” ppl.

Just look at his comments: “these ppl have rights,” but “we do too, the ppl & families of NY.” Ahh, so everyone homeless committing a crime is mentally ill? Everyone not homeless is in the “healthy/normal” grp?

Let’s look at the facts: Yes, there’s an increase in the # of homeless ppl on NYC streets since before the pandemic began. Yes, there are also greater incidents of violence where homeless ppl are involved. Yang wasn’t wrong for pointing out that this is an issue.

Where Yang’s comments are problematic are in the specific words he chose to use, & that those words come off the heels of society’s general misunderstanding of what mental HEALTH even is.

Mental health lives on a continuum. We’re ALL susceptible to mental health complications- everyone. 1) How do we know that ppl Yang views as committing these crimes are “mentally ill”? Would they all meet the criteria of a DSM5 diagnosis? 2) For “we who have rights too,” are we this separate grp of ppl who either a) won’t ever suffer mental illness or b) can’t commit crime unless we’re mentally ill?

My friend asked me what would’ve been better. Here’s the bottom line: not referring to this issue as an “us & them” one…not referring to the ppl committing crimes blankety as: the mentally ill. We HAVE to start saying things like: “Those OF US (in the total collective of society) in the midst of facing mental HEALTH complications, who’ve committed crimes.”

This way there aren’t 2, separate, fixed/defined grps- where “they” are not “us.” Likewise, the statements don’t lead society to believe ANYONE facing MH challenges, is a major threat for violence. Words matter & we need to get this right.

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