Spotlight welcomed on mental health, but violence correlation misguided
Jacob Moore, 32, said his heart leaps when he thinks about an early morning tweet from a stranger 700 miles away. That tweet would permanently link Moore to someone he now affectionately calls his “6 a.m. friend.”
One morning, the Chicago actor's unnamed friend, also in his 30s, wanted to offer a donation to Moore’s nonprofit, NoStigmas, an advocacy group seeking to break misconceptions of mental illness as well as educate the public about what it means to be mentally ill.
Moore said the stranger told him he loved Moore’s organization and wanted to donate money -- before he would carry out his planned suicide.
Moore was able to intervene, turning the man instead to suicide prevention resources, and thus, a friendship was born.
"He's doing well and on the road to recovery and luckily he had that moment to cry for help in a public way. It's just taking a moment to recognize that and say 'I care about you, and I want you to live and be here,'" Moore said.
"I think that could’ve been different for my father," he added.
His father, Michael Moore, took his own life when Moore was 7. The trauma pushed Moore into childhood and young adulthood riddled with mental illness.
"It started to affect me in high school, having panic attacks in the middle of class — it was debilitating. I developed clinical depression and it culminated in my senior year. I couldn't bring myself to leave my house and my bed. I almost didn’t graduate," Moore said.
Moore's mother recognized his struggles and sought treatment for him, though now, Moore said after six doctors and 20 different prescriptions, he now treats his panic disorder and clinical depression in a much less clinical way, looking to alternative methods like nutrition, fitness and cognitive therapy.
Well-intentioned, but misleading
In the wake of devastating gun violence across the country, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), as part of a bipartisan initiative to pass the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, released a video Wednesday promoting the bill he co-authored with senators Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
The goal, they said, is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But all bills proposed regarding background checks fail to map out who exactly is considered mentally ill, what illnesses fall under the label of mentally ill and how gun sellers could discover someone was, in fact, mentally ill without access to legally protected medical documents.
The focus has not only set its sights on guns themselves, but to examine the major deficits in mental health services -- insisting reducing gun violence lays at the doorstep of better mental health resources.
But advocates of the mentally ill are unnerved about the correlation at all.
"The media portrays it as a very clear relationship — if only we increased services, violence will decrease. I’m not convinced that will happen,” said Emily Moen, director of public relations and marketing at Thresholds, a community-based services provider of the mentally ill.
“I don’t think there is a correlation," she added.
But for some advocates, any publicity can potentially be good publicity.
"This is our moment," said Linda Rosenberg, the president of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, to the New York Times in early April. "I hate the connection between gun violence and the need for better mental health care, but sometimes you have to take what you can get."
The U.S. cut $1.3 billion from mental health services from 2009 to 2011, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Illinois has cut $1.4 million in the same time span.
Stigmas and stereotypes
According to the American Journal of Public Health, the public's perception of the mentally ill as more dangerous than the rest of the population is increasing. These stereotypes remain "a powerfully detrimental feature of the lives of people with such conditions," the journal said.
Substance abuse especially, according to a Harvard University health publication contributes to violence in both the mentally ill and those not suffering from a mental illness. Also poverty, family history and witnessing violence are correlated with a propensity towards violence.
As to why the public is so inclined to label violent offenders as mentally ill, Dr. Dan Cooper, assistant director of the Adler Institute of Public Safety and Social Justice, explained, "Sort of the obvious reason is what captures the attention of the media," he said.
"Mass shootings are often by people who are mentally ill. But, from our perspective, most ensuing violence is in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. We should focus more about how disadvantage is breeding violence," Cooper said
“Stigma creates huge divides and doesn’t support people in getting treatment. Although there’s not a lot of services available, it deters people from every single type of class, race and religion,” James said.
For Jacob Moore, being open about his mental illness is not only an opportunity to educate the public about the faces of mental illness, but a chance to open the door for others experiencing symptoms in silence to speak out about their struggles.
“I always love the moment I reveal myself to someone who doesn’t know me and has no preconceived notion -- it’s either extremely uncomfortable or they feel encouraged because they have something similar," Moore said.
"They are usually shocked. I don’t look like someone who’s mentally ill, I don’t look like someone whose father committed suicide. I’ve dealt with this my entire life. I’ve lived with anxiety and depression and I’m a normal guy and most of those suffering are,” Moore added. Moore also plans to visit his "6 a.m. friend" soon.