Back in the 1980s, there was a television show called Dallas – featuring an oil tycoon J.R. and his multi-millionaire family of Ewings from Southfork ranch. J.R. was loved and hated in equal measure by the adoring audience of the hit show. Greed and lust upped the ratings until suddenly 350 million people worldwide tuned in to find out ‘Who shot JR?’ Such was the show’s success back then that it was remade in more recent years to allow modern viewers gaze and amaze at the lavish family’s lifestyle.
Lately, in another Texas community called Sutherland Springs, a 26-year-old man by the name of Devin Patrick Kelley entered the local church armed with an assault rifle and opened fire, killing 26 innocent worshipers.
Mass shootings by seemingly unlikely individuals always result in the media questioning the motives behind these types of attacks. One of the theories is that the shooter is experiencing some form of mental illness and a psychiatric diagnosis would or should have been able to predict a tendency towards violent behaviour. Many believe that, even with the gun control policies that are in place, prevention of these types of acts is next to impossible. This opinion is commonplace among a perplexed public following such ordeals and their reactive opinions often intensify negative attitudes towards people suffering with serious mental illness.
So what are the effects on those that have a mental illness and witness these horrendous acts on television? They perceive that others’ attitudes toward them become more negative and this in turn reduces the likelihood they will engage with support services designed to help them recover or at least live with their condition. It also decreases their willingness to disclose their treatment at all. In this way it seems that the cycle of stigma will continue unabated.
Society needs to offer an ear to all in need of mental health support before the next reporter asks, ‘Why was JR shot?’