Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Opinion

News Opinion

Right-wing 'reporter' makes mental health a political issue

I cannot write this the way I want. Doing so would invade the privacy of too many people. But I can't be silent, either.

Last week, you see, President Barack Obama spoke before a conference of mental health advocates at the White House. It is necessary, he said, to remove the stigma of mental illness and make sure "people aren't suffering in silence," that they know they are not alone but are supported by the rest of us as they face this challenge.

It would seem a plain vanilla thing to say. But in this endless era of smash-mouth politics, nothing is plain vanilla anymore.

So one Neil Munro, a "reporter" for the right-wing Daily Caller website, duly took exception. Under the headline, "Obama urges public to use government mental-health programs," Mr. Munro in essence accused mental health professionals of making up illnesses. "In recent decades," he wrote, "the professionals have broadened the definition from severe, distinct and rare ailments, such as schizophrenia and compulsive behavior, to include a much wider set of personal troubles. Those broader problems include stress and sadness, which are medically dubbed 'anxiety' and 'depression' by professionals."

Mr. Munro was having none of that. "Americans," he wrote, "have typically responded to stress and sadness by urging stoicism, hard work, marriage, prayer and personal initiative. ..."

In other words, we were self-reliant. We toughed it out. And if I could write this the way I want, I would tell you in detail about a friend who was self-reliant. She toughed it out. Right up until she shot herself.

If I could write this the way I want, I would gather people I know who suffer from the types of diseases Mr. Munro finds "real" -- dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia -- and I'd let them describe for you the stigma that attaches even to those sicknesses. The notion that mental illness -- any mental illness -- should be toughed out is asinine. Would you tough out diabetes? Would you tough out cancer?

It is a statistical matter of fact (one in five of us suffers mental illness in any given year, said the president) that this touches many of us. So I suspect I am not the only one who has stories he cannot tell and names he cannot call. On behalf of those unnamed people, our family members and friends who daily struggle with crippling disorders they did not cause and do not deserve, let us call Mr. Munro's writing what it is: cruel sanctimony.

If his name sounds familiar, it is because last year, he made news for heckling the president during a Rose Garden address. Though ostensibly a "reporter," Mr. Munro was shown in photographs with his hands in his pockets and neither notepad nor tape recorder in evidence.

Which made it hard to see how he was "reporting," and suggested he was less a member of the Fourth Estate than another ideologue playing dress-up, a fresh emblem of political divisions so broad they can no longer be bridged. So broad that even things we once all agreed upon -- for example: reporters don't heckle presidents during speeches -- can no longer be taken for granted.

But what the ideologue playacting at journalism either does not know, or does not care about, is that this is not a game. There is a real-life consequence to spreading ignorance about matters of health. As the military deals with record suicide rates, one shudders to think of the soldier, afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder, who will read Mr. Munro's scribblings and feel affirmed in his belief that seeking help is somehow unmanly. As our parks fill with the homeless mentally ill, one sighs at the thought of some daughter reading this and believing her dad chose to be that way.

These are our people, said the president, and we should support them. Self-evident truth. Plain vanilla.

And Lord have mercy. Even that's controversial now.

Leonard Pitts, a Maryland resident, is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Forced sterilization still happens in America

    Forced sterilization still happens in America

    An investigative report into California's prisons found hundreds of inmates had been sterilized, and many said they were pressured to consent

  • The endangered pollinators

    The endangered pollinators

    For those who visit the Maryland State Fair each year, the honey and wax exhibit is always a highlight. A busy hive of bees can be viewed through a plastic window, there's locally-produced honey and candles in a variety of shapes and sizes for sale, and members of the Maryland State Beekeepers...

  • Ready for Kindergarten?

    Ready for Kindergarten?

    Even Maryland's youngest students are feeling the effect of the state's switch to the more rigorous academic requirements of the Common Core standards. This week state officials reported that fewer than half the state's 4- and 5-year-olds are "fully ready" to succeed when they enter Kindergarten,...

  • Fewer assessment test [Poll]

    Fewer assessment test [Poll]

    Was it a good move for education leaders to cut back on reading and math assessment tests in Maryland schools?

  • Will accomplishment deficit be Hillary's undoing?

    Will accomplishment deficit be Hillary's undoing?

    There are plenty of reasons to believe 2016 will be a very ugly election year. Here's one more.

  • When cheap laughs cost too much

    When cheap laughs cost too much

    Some people unfortunately think that the best way to respond to the intolerance of Muslim fanatics is to insult all Muslims.

  • The false god of politics

    The false god of politics

    If you visit Mount Olympus, you will see scores of crumbling statues to false gods once worshipped by ancient Greeks. The same is true in Rome, where statues of political gods, notably those named Caesar, lay in ruins.

  • We can save lives now

    We can save lives now

    Heroin is not a new problem to Baltimore. Like many cities across the U.S., we have struggled with the heroin epidemic for years. Heroin ties into the very fabric of our city and cannot be separated from the problems of violence, mass incarceration and rampant health disparities.

Comments
Loading

73°