As I have written before, coverage of mental illness is improving, from the Russian orphan scandal, in which the media for the most part characterized the child as violent, not mentally ill, to the copy-cat knife-wielding attacks in Chinese kindergartens, which have been attributed primarily to the social inequities and frustrations of citizens living in a repressive regime.
Yet some news outlets continue to present distorted images of psychosis.
In a recent piece in the New Yorker on online entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, the writer, Rebecca Mead, described Breitbart's Twitter activity in the wake of Politico's report that members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Barney Frank, the openly gay Congressman, had been subjected to racist and homophobic slurs at a Tea Party protest. She wrote that Breitbart's Tweets "suggested he was in the midst of a hostile attack, or undergoing a psychotic break."
What did he Tweet?
"OhmyGod, the Dems are screaming the N word outside of my house. I swear. No, really. Trust me. It's true."
In what sense was this Tweet, which was followed by two others of a similar ilk, akin to a psychotic break? Clearly, Mead doesn't think that observers of bigotry are inherently psychotic, so she must think that those in the midst of psychosis spew racial and gay epithets. I suppose some have, but I never did, when I was having my psychotic breaks in 1997 and 1999. Nor did I communicate in the idiom, mock or otherwise, of a text-messaging Valley girl, prone to "OhmyGod," stream of consciousness rants.
Some will claim that I am enforcing a kind of political correctness, that I am censoring people or preventing them from having fun. Not so. I am striving to be accurate and to inform readers and journalists alike about the true nature of psychosis.
The New Yorker is not alone in depicting psychotics as being breathless, right-wing fools.
After impersonating Glenn Beck, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann often identifies the Fox News personality as being delusional, a "whack job" or a paranoid schizophrenic. It is understandable that Olbermann would want to ridicule Beck. After all, Beck seemingly broached the possibility that Rockefeller Center was channeling evil Communist and Fascist symbols, etched into its walls.
However, just as Breitbart is not psychotic, Beck, whose absurdity may have reached its apotheosis when he referred to President Obama as a racist, is not delusional, a whack job or a schizophrenic, my onetime diagnosis. Beck is simply an over-the-top clown, who turns on and off his antic disposition to suit his purposes.
So, why is there this fixation with branding psychotic people as racists, homophobes or right-wing ranters? Perhaps, because psychotics can become extremely suspicious, which may lead temporarily to what appears to be intolerance for those of a different demographic.
I understand this. In 1999, I thought, among other delusions, that I was going to be blamed for a series of nefarious crimes, that I was going to be assassinated, and that a cabal was trying to frame me as a gay assassin, like Andrew Cunanan, who two years earlier had terrorized the nation, killing designer Gianni Versace and others.
It is worth pointing out that my late psychiatrist, Dr. Michael McGrail, never judged me for my gay-themed delusion even though he himself was gay, as I learned after his death in 2007. He was sophisticated enough to know that my fears of a conspiracy to frame me related to my lifelong feelings of powerlessness and alienation. He also knew how much I admired him.
Sadly, not everyone is so sophisticated. The politically correct police, many of whom are as insipid as the "OhmyGod" Tweeters, have judged me at times.
Still, I persist in telling my tale, however politically incorrect, because it is true and because, like most psychotics, I have harmed no one and been a threat to no one but myself.
If we hope to gain an understanding of what it is like to be psychotic, which means "divorced from reality," we need to hear such stories without impugning a whole group of individuals as racists or homophobes.
Those of us who have actually experienced psychosis have faced a nightmare that would leave anyone feeling unhinged, terrified and perhaps even temporarily intolerant. Mock us if you must, but we should not be indicted for our delusions, nor should we be linked to right-wing ranters.