In the current public discussion about the taped rants attributed to Mel Gibson, I’ve heard plenty of outrage about the racist content and the violence of the threats– and rightly so. Along with the outrage, there is also the seemingly obligatory talk show and late night tv joke-telling all centered on the notion that “this man must have lost his mind.” Now of course, if that is what we believe, then the conversation about Mel should become short as it morphs into a discussion of our collective distaste for recognizing that mental illnesses are physical illnesses. Isn’t the brain a part of the body? Couldn’t an illness such as bipolar disorder manifest itself with inexplicable behavior that society could find highly offensive? If we as a society talked respectfully about the realities of mental illness, instead of mostly making jokes or simply being appalled by it, we could make it a natural and easier decision for someone to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment for it.
Think about it, when was the last time you heard somebody say, “I can’t believe that jerk had a heart attack right there in the street! How disgusting! What was he thinking?” I don’t think you’ve ever heard that. We don’t stigmatize heart disease that way. Should mental illness continue to be stigmatized that way? This could be quite a discussion. I can’t think of a more important one, and it’s one we should all be having right about now.