There Is No Miami Zombie Apocalypse, Just Mentally Ill People With No Safety Net

Lindy West writes for Jezebel about all the gruesome stories ricocheting around social media lately, and how they marginalize the real issue: lack resources for the mentally ill.

I don’t mean that the people who latched on to this particular meme are bad people (though I would say they’re a bit thoughtless), or that it’s never appropriate to respond to unthinkable tragedy with macabre humor. But I’m not feeling particularly charitable toward wacky zombie jokes today. There’s no such thing as undead people, only dead people. And sad people. No one deserves to be publicly ridiculed for their identity — gay people, fat people, black people, poor people — but when we ridicule and marginalize mentally ill people, actual innocent people get killed.

Jezebel: There Is No Miami Zombie Apocalypse, Just Mentally Ill People With No Safety Net

See also: It’s Bigger Than “Bath Salts” and “Zombie Apocalypses” by Subhash Kateel, who writes:

-Florida is the second to worst state in the country when it comes to funding mental health services. Of the 325,000 people with persistent and severe mental illness, only 42 percent receive treatment.
-In 2010, the State Legislature cut adult community mental health funding, children’s mental health funding and adult substance abuse services by more than $18 million. This year, the state legislature tried to make Florida the worst state in the nation at funding mental health, and almost succeeded.
-Prescription drug overdoses and the prescription drug death rate are up in Florida by 61 percent and 84 percent respectively. That didn’t stop state politicians from trying to cut funding for drug treatment by 20 percent, which would have kicked 37,000 people out of services while they were trying to kick a habit.
– First responders across the state say that they are seeing mental health cases that they have never seen before, such as a Palm Beach man that was held in custody 50 times in one year under the state’s Baker Act because he was a threat to himself and others.

It’s much easier to place the blame on some weird new designer drugs (that the perpetrators might not have even been using) than it is to talk seriously about complex issues like lack of funding and access to social programs and deep rooted problems with mental health institutions.

(via Lupa)

Update: Rob Arthur notes that both mental illness and drug abuse are lower predictors for violence many other factors.

3 Comments

  1. While I understand that with the sheer volume of social network memes and comments that it may appear that the entire world is having a heartless laugh at the expense of (probably) a seriously drugged out and/or mentally ill man and his victim, it is also a fact that these kinds of jokes are not new and they actually serve a psychological function. This psychological relief is especially beneficial for the same people that the article claims to be so concerned about. Sure, there are hundreds of trolls who take the nastiness too far and lulz all over the place about unfortunate people simply because they enjoy misery–however there is also a significant amount of people who are cracking creepy jokes because we spend most of the day worried about food, shelter, and the future of a world that increasingly resembles a George Romero film. We laugh so do not to cry. Not to put too fine a point on it, the people I grew up with (a working class background) almost always use humor to get through abuse, rape, beatings, death and poverty and, conversely, the only people that I ever met who were shocked and felt a need to scold people for their “inappropriate” laughter are well-meaning, socially aware, and definitively middle to upper class activists. An anecdotal and personal observation, yes, but I know plenty of people who would back me up. The writer Paul Lewis talks about the importance of joke context very well in several of his books better than I can here. All I know is finding the funny is what humans do-it is a cathartic release so they can continue. If everyone treated every atrocity with the seriousness it deserved we would all be hiding under our beds–so we laugh and then we move on.

  2. I’ll venture a bit of a Pope Bob approach to these cases of manic cannibalism:

    Mental illness is in some cases a blanket term for psychological aberrations that we don’t yet fully understand. Some are obviously quite dangerous or deadly, while others tend towards more petty compulsions, obsessions, etc. In the case of the face-eater and the brain-eater, I get a sense that their behavior is a result of the brain resorting to a lower mammalian/reptilian circuit after intense trauma or stress. Their social imprints and environs which shaped them may never have allowed room for higher states of logic and reasoning beyond bio-survival. Left on the razor’s edge of anxiety, a single event or imbalance could be responsible for tipping them toward such brutal, macabre action.

    Looking around at the world today and every anxiety and stress we face, it’s quite apparent that those who aren’t equipped to transmute damaging psychological stressors may be more prone to this aggravated, primal behavior.

  3. Articles like these bring to mind Ivan Illich’s great opening to Deschooling Society. Especially this part: “Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve those ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.”

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