Joan Raymond wrote an article for NBC News about how teens with mental illness often hide their illness. The article raises the issues of why teens hide their illness, such as how during the teen years, anyone who is "different" is often bullied. It discusses how mental illness is seen in society as scary or weird, and so teens feel unsafe talking about how they are doing. The article also talks about how hard it is to actually even get mental health care for teens. Overall, it's a decent article that raises important issues. (I disagree with putting in the parts about the school shootings, and a quote from a teen accused of plotting violence who self-diagnoses and says "I think I am just really mentally-ill." The research does not support violence being linked to mental illness, and I have written about that previously.) It's an article that is meant to raise awareness so that we can do something, help teens feel safe to speak about their illness and get them proper treatment.
However, the title negates the whole message:
"Demons Inside: Teens at Risk Can Hide Mental Illness"
What teen or parent of a teen with mental illness would ever read this article and feel safe talking about mental illness when the title equates mental illness with "demons inside?" The title is emblazoned across a photo of Kenny Baker and his parents. Kenny died by suicide at 19 years old due to depression and anxiety. I feel for his parents. How it must hurt to see a beautiful photo of them with their child, and have the words "Demons Inside" splashed across it.
Mental illness has nothing to do with demons or inherent evil. Using a title like this promotes stigma and fear- the very things the article was attempting to combat. This "demon" idea is an old, outdated belief that stems from fear, in a time when we had no medical and scientific understanding of the brain. We no longer live in the middle ages. And yet, many people still believe people with mental illness are inherently evil, have let the devil into their soul, or are possessed by demons. Consistently since I started this blog a few years ago, the number one search term that brings people to my blog is "bipolar caused by evil spirits." If you read the comments on the NBC article, you will see quite a few people who think that mental illness is caused by the devil. We can not be promoting those ideas.
I have had mental illness since I was six years old. I remember news stories about murders or violent crime and hearing the terms mental illness, demons, evil, and possession being used all the time as reasons for the violence. I knew something was wrong with my brain, and there was no way I was going to tell anyone. What kid wants to be told they are inherently evil? What child or teen would ever feel safe in that environment?
Equating mental illness with demons and inherent evil that you have no control over also gives children and teens the message that no matter what they do, they will always be evil. They will never get better. They have no future, no chance in life.
There are no words to describe the immense self-fear and loathing this message creates. To be taught that even if you try to be good and kind, you never can be. To be told that at some point, because you are evil or possessed, you will hurt other people. This means there is no hope for you. You have no worth, no dignity, and no soul. And if there is no hope for you, then seeking out treatment is not an option. It's a terrible life sentence, and I am extremely disappointed to see this message in 2014 promoted by NBC News because they chose to sensationalize the title to get more readers.
I emailed Joan Raymond about my concerns with the title, but have not heard anything back yet. Who knows if she or her editors chose the title. Whoever it was, they were being very irresponsible.