November 30, 2010 Leave a comment
This article concerns me. The headline and the lead-in speak of the seizures that Brian David Mitchell, the man who kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, has been suffering. The article quickly moves on to discussing Mitchell’s mental health.
Mitchell’s lawyer, the article says, is presenting the “insanity defense” and talks about both Mitchell’s, and his family’s history of mental illness. I find it curious that the author, Jennifer Dobner, chose to take the article in this direction, since after all, the headline is “Elizabeth Smart kidnapper suffers seizure in court.” By taking the article in this direction, it seems to imply a connection between seizures and “mental illness” or “psychosis disorders” which is not the case.
I do not and will not engage in armchair diagnosing of Mitchell—that is no place of mine. That is between Mitchell and his doctor.
My problem is with the tendency to equate bad deeds, such as kidnapping and rape, to mental illness, thereby implying that anyone with mental or psychological problems is a bad person—a ticking time bomb, if you will. It marginalizes those of us with epilepsy, depression, bipolar disorder, and many others, for no good reason other than different=bad. In fact, throughout much of history, those who were different were often deemed “mad” and power was wrested from them, and they were killed, or left to rot in a hospital, prison, or later, a “mental institution.”[i]
This also implies that if you do something “bad” then you must be “mad.” It implies that no good, normal person could or would ever do bad or terrible things—so if one could prove one was normal, then they could not possibly be guilty of any crime or wrongdoing. The wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will, feeds and benefits off this idea.
This line of thinking is intellectually lazy, it is bigoted, and it has dire consequences for society.
Mitchell did a horrible thing to Elizabeth Smart, and I hope she will find peace, closure, and healing. But Mitchell’s deed does not make him mentally ill. If he does suffer from a “delusional disorder” or some other mental illness, that mental disorder does not make him a bad person. If he is ill, I hope he is able to find a way to live peacefully with his disorder—whether or not he accepts treatment. As of now, he has been deemed competent to stand trial, so he will face justice for his deed—but only that. His deeds. Not his illness.
[i] And this is why I’m skeptical of a family history of mental illness—because science and medicine wasn’t where it is today, and so differing from cultural and religious norms were often used in lieu of science. The victors write the history, so we have no objective basis for diagnosing people long dead of mental disorders.