The Problem with Labeling Evil as Mental Illness


The stigma surrounding mental health is the reason for the societal confusion between mental illness and real evil. (PAOLOBARZMAN VIA FLICKR)

By OMAR ELKHATIB, Staff Writer

When you couple the digital age with the modern progressive culture, you gain exposure to valuable news and information. Unfortunately, this can also shed light on troubling aspects of our modern American culture. If you remember a few months ago, authorities in California discovered 13 children living in filthy and abusive conditions. The other day, I came across a similar story about a couple that was abusing its ten kids in the same manner, depriving them of food in a home where they were constantly physically abused. Finally, I also read a story not too long ago about a mother that stabbed her young daughter more than 50 times.

Mental health has been a topic of concern for Americans, whereby we’re quick to label acts that aren’t normally observed as mental illnesses. However, in the stories I mentioned, oftentimes in the comment sections or on platforms such as Twitter, I see readers calling the parents in abuse cases mentally ill, but they aren’t.

Mental illness is something one suffers and deals with in their own life; it does not inherently bring others down. The mentally ill person can be a mother who battles severe depression while packing lunch for her kids or a father that struggles with bipolar disorder and seeks help through his psychiatrist. It’s something one person struggles with, not something that a person projects onto others, especially in instances where adults harm children.

Let’s call those instances what they are: evil, not mental illness. We need to be careful to not confuse evil acts with mental illness because that is not fair to the millions of Americans struggling to better themselves. One can be evil without being mentally ill, and giving evil people the excuse of mental illness may only be helping to justify their actions, not only in their own troubled minds but also in our legal system.

It is troubling to see stories of child abuse daily, but the next time you see one, do not rush to think of mental illness. Instead, call it evil because these disgusting acts should warrant sympathy from no one. When you struggle with mental illness, you are a normal citizen who has a personal fight to overcome. When you hurt children for your own satisfaction, you are the lowest of the low.

The abuse of children has not only come at the hands of parents, but unfortunately at the hands of other children, as we’ve seen in light of recent school shootings. Whether it’s the tragic shooting in Parkland, Fla., or the more recent tragedies at Sante Fe High School, student gunmen have been labeled as mentally ill.

Typically we hear that gunmen were victims of bullying or had mental illnesses that caused them to commit their acts. Although bullying is a concern across schools around the country, committing heinous actions is far from a normal reaction to it. Children across the country are bullied daily but find other means of resolving their situations that don’t include taking the lives of others. Seeking constructive and peaceful ways to solve dilemmas needs to be our first inclination. We must separate the notion of mental illness from the instances where there are clearly evil intentions involved. In this way, the topic of mental illness will receive the attention it deserves in the aim of helping all those who suffer and seek genuine help.