Media Emphasis on Violence Trumps Issues of Mental Health

By Genevieve Shifke | December 21, 2012

In a matter of hours after murdering 27 people, including his own mother, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Adam Lanza became a household name.

Those 27 victims, however, are merely the nameless, faceless bodies that comprise the statistic of “second most deadly shooting since Virginia Tech.”

It’s all about the shock factor: it’s about the spectacle, not the individual stories. Not only school shooters, but mass producers of violence in general. The stories reported by the media focus on the horrific people behind them instead of the ones lost and those affected by such monstrosities. Jeffrey Dahmer will go down in history as one of the most mentally deranged criminals in the United States. He had 17 victims. I cannot name a single one.

As a nation we act shocked, and many of us truly are, when children like Charlotte Bacon, Allison Wyatt, and Jesse Lewis, as well as their 24 other classmates and teachers from Sandy Hook, are shot for no reason, yet we are the world purveyors of violence, especially against our own.

We need to take a step back and look at why people do what they do, rather than simply state that what they did was wrong. Acts of terror, such as this shooting, are not committed by mentally stable individuals.

Unfortunately, there is a negative stigma put on seeking mental healthcare—I mean, God forbid you come across as crazy—so mental health is not a priority, despite the fact that disorders are physiological imbalances that manifest themselves as psychological issues. Rather, it is considered an embarrassment that people would rather hide and deny than own up to and get help for. So instead of destigmatizing mental illness, we say “This guy was crazy! How could anyone do that to innocent children? He’s so messed up.” And the media plays right into it.

Instead of using its mass coverage to promote mental healthcare awareness, the media feels the need to shock the public, and we play right into their hand by eating it up. We show people getting blown to bits on coverage of wars, blood and body parts strewn every which way. Yet the same time, we think it’s necessary to censor a pair of breasts. Which is more harmful or emotionally scarring: a human being sliced to bits or a woman’s bare chest, the same type of chest half of our nation sees on their own bodies everyday after taking a shower?

Words can be easily twisted, so I’d like to clarify that I am not promoting public nudity, I’m just commenting on how we have come to shape our societal priorities.  From movies and television shows (who’s ready for the next season of American Horror Story?) to videogames whose sole purpose is to shoot people (I’ve heard rumors of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4 to come out in 2013…), we thrive on violence. What does that say about our nation as a whole? How can we be considered ethically sound if we constantly stream gore, violence, and murder without hesitation?

It’s no wonder people lash out constantly. If you sit at home, quietly thinking violent thoughts and living a miserable existence anyway, in your mind you will die a sad little nobody. But if you act on these thoughts and shoot 27 innocent people in Newtown, CT, for example, you become instantly famous; you leave behind a legacy, and any press is good press, right?

Victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. Originally published on the front page of the New York Times.

2 comments on “Media Emphasis on Violence Trumps Issues of Mental Health”

  1. Alderman Brown says:

    Spot on. National News covering the minutia of mental health and the betterment of society through acceptance is boring, and doesn’t draw ratings. When every institution in society is based on a model of maximizing profits, what else can you expect? From fox news to health insurance, it’s all a racket with one goal, the bottom line. America isn’t a country or a nation with a shared ethnicity or culture, it is a marketplace where it’s every man for himself as the military empire uses our labor and taxes to fund its expansion. Don’t believe me? Look it all up.

  2. Herb says:

    Providing access to quality mental health care would mean allowing people to become aware of their true human nature and, consequently, becoming aware of the underlying source of their happiness: immaterial things.

    So, Genevieve, you suggest we look at the underlying issue for why such monstrosities occur, well, let’s take a moment to identify the forces that control the spread of information which perpetuate the misconceptions of mental health and the human condition. Like the guy from the above post mentioned, it’s anti-corporate. Good psychological health hurts the bottom line. The lifeblood to corporatism is consumerism and a well informed and psychologically independent individual doesn’t need BS products and services to attain happiness. Just sit down and have a conversation with friends and you achieve happiness. Contemplate and meditate, you achieve happiness. But these consumerists have become dopamine junkies.

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