Stigmas, Stereotypes, and the Theater Shooting

07/25/2012 04:02 pm ET | Updated Sep 24, 2012

The impact of stigmas and stereotypes can be observed and analyzed as it pertains to the appalling violence that took place in the movie theater on July 20 in Aurora, Colorado. First, there is the issue of mental health and the stigma associated with it. The shooter was clearly in need of help in that area. Unfortunately, for everyone affected by the violence, he did not seek and receive adequate help. This may have to do with the negative stigma associated with mental and psychological counseling and treatment.

Those who seek aid are often disparaged and ridiculed in a vicious manner. They are described with terms like crazy, nutcase, and psycho. They are then socially ostracized in many instances and viewed as being unfit to stand with the rest of the "sane" members of society. This discourages many people who suffer with issues ranging from depression to abuse from getting much needed help.

It is time to lift the veil of shame and embarrassment around the area of mental health and applaud those who seek assistance. The mortality and vulnerability in everyone should remind us that anyone could stand to benefit from psychological counseling and that no one has a monopoly on mental wellness.

Also at issue in the aftermath of the shooting is the impact of stereotypes in the media's coverage of the tragedy. Though wounding 58 people and killing 12 others can certainly be considered an act of terrorism; the term has minimally if ever been used to describe it. It can be reasonably assumed that if the shooter had an Arabic sounding name, was of Middle Eastern descent, or practiced the religion of Islam then this would not be the case. The shooter would have automatically been branded a terrorist and many Arab-Americans would be looked upon with suspicion even though they had nothing to do with the crime.

Certain commentators and public officials would likely use the event to fire up a fear mongering campaign built on an ugly stereotype. The same could be said if the shooter happened to be Hispanic or Black. Instead of the shooter being presented as a sick and demented individual as is currently the case; a whole swath of people based on their race, gender, or religion would have to bear the brunt of one person's actions.

As the nation mourns over this horrific tragedy, we should also reflect on the stigma and stereotypes that surround mental health and the way that we categorize different segments of people. There is no way to guarantee that another tragedy of this magnitude won't happen again but we can look internally as a nation at issues such as mental illness, gun control, and certain debilitating stigmas to decrease the likelihood of terrible acts of violence like the one that we are currently wrestling with.