by Sasha R. M. Kian I've been thinking a lot about the stigma of mental illness. Often times, it seems that the mentally ill are blamed for all kinds of violent crimes. The reality is that people with mental illness are only responsible for 3-5% of violent crimes and, in fact, are more likely to be victims of violent crime rather than be part of them. When we blame mental illness, we are hurting those who suffer. We're making it shameful for them to admit they are ill. They may lose jobs or lose relationships if they admit to being ill; the stigma may cause them to not seek help. When society criminalizes and vilifies mental illness by using that as a reason for a crime we cannot understand, we are saying to our loved ones who are ill, that they are dangerous. That they are to be feared, to be watched. We are implying that they are not like us - they are second class citizens. It becomes an admonishment - an indictment - a way of not listening and a way of ignoring the problem. "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." I believe we owe more to ourselves, our loved ones, and each other. If we work together to end the stigma, to speak out when someone blames mental illness as the reason for a violent crime ... maybe then, those that are depressed, anxious, or otherwise, won't be ashamed to ask for help. They won't be afraid to look for solutions out of fear that they will be stigmatized or seen as a potential threat. My family never spoke of mental illness. My parents didn't believe that "depression" was a thing. When I went away to college, I had a rough time adjusting to living in a new state and being away from home for the first time. My professors encouraged me to see the university's guidance counselor, who told me I may have a mental illness. My parents encouraged me to not believe the diagnosis. They said I didn't need to see a therapist and that if I were to see a therapist, I didn't need to air "dirty laundry." I was told that only "crazy people" visit a therapist. My sister was five years younger than I. She watched this interaction between myself and my parents. And maybe, she didn't speak up because of this. She was extroverted and social and went clubbing and on road trips with friends. She painted with friends in the park and created sculptures from beach sand. She laughed all the time. Made jokes - sometimes at my expense - she always smiled. It's upsetting that I missed my sister's depression - that I didn't recognize, didn't understand what she may have been thinking or feeling - and part of why I missed it is because having a mental illness is a stigma - it is hushed up, it is ignored, it is misunderstood, it is "for crazy people," not us. Her death is no one's fault - not my parents, not mine. There wasn't anything we could have done with the tools we had at that time. Maybe, if we, as a society, weren't afraid of mental illness, if we were educated about it, if we spoke about our feelings and tried to understand each other, things might be different - not just for my sister, but for all of us. There's no way to know for sure. All I know for sure is that I know more now. I understand more now. We need to create the tools to erase the stigma. We need to make it okay to ask for help. To not be seen as weak or different or dangerous. Maybe, not blaming the mentally ill every time someone commits a crime, is a start. EDITOR'S NOTE: The fact that many crimes are blamed on Brain Disorders and Diseases is because we do not offer and get people treatment. Lack of funding on Florida's part (49th in the nation for mental health funding) has forced many with mental illnesses into the penal system due to inadequate faculities for them. When treatment and proper care is unavailable to people with these diseases, they can become unable to function in society. They can lose contact with reality due to the illnesses, but this does not necessarily make ill people dangerous, it more often than not means they need comprehensive care. As a result of incarciration and deviant perceptions the stigma and fear of those with Brain Diseases and Disorders only increases. It is through proper care, funding and education that we will be able to challenge and one day eliminate these damaging fears and stigmas.