I spent most of the past week on vacation, traveling across the country to scope out a possible new home. I had four flights during that time and each one brought visions to mind of the doomed European flight of a few weeks ago. While I realized that such imaginings were not grounded in reality, I found myself thinking “does this pilot suffer from the same problems that the other pilot did? Is this a doomed flight?” Of course, my flights went just fine, but I found myself uncomfortably succumbing to the same paranoia I preach against. At what point do we conduct a witch hunt, looking for those with mental illness that will snap and at what point do we place ourselves into the hands of Chance and realize that probability dictates that we can expect to be safe?
The truth is that this is the age of the witch hunt. People with mental illness are able to work jobs that they could not in the past, but at the same time, we find that we are always kept under a watchful eye. Others want to know the extent to which our illnesses affect us. They want to know if we are simply going to underproduce or whether we are unstable time bombs waiting to go off. The stigma is very real, regardless of the extent to which the disorders are controlled and the relative cuddliness (or scariness) of the conditions we may have. I should note that those that do not suffer from mental illness tend to place us all in the same boat: a sinking ship in which everyone is assumed to be dangerous and destructive regardless of actions performed.
I feel slightly ashamed – though I lose no sleep – that I felt such misgivings while traveling these past few days. I suppose that it may be natural to fear the unknown, but it is not enlightened. Yes, we are surrounded by those that could lose their grip on the reasonable and lash out, be they schizophrenics, the depressed, or the antisocial. They could create harm and chaos. However, they are as likely (I would posit, more likely) to act in a manner that is beneficial to all involved. Just as I preach that individual antisocials must be treated as individuals, those that suffer from mental illness should be treated just the same. The conditions they are afflicted with may not be by choice, but they do have choice over how they cope. Society needs to put away the drums of war when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill and acknowledge that it is probable that those with mental illness are doing all that they can to remain on the right side of life and the law. No one can control their thoughts, but everyone can control their actions. I do not expect the healthy to be unafraid, but I do expect them to offer a tepid respect.