Journalistic Bias Syndrome
Indeed, when neurological differences and psychological diagnoses are mentioned frequently in the context of criminal offenses, such reporting skews the general public's perceptions and leads many people to assume that there must be a causal relationship. Warner cites studies showing how widespread these prejudices have become:
This past May, the journal Psychiatric Services published the results of the first large-scale nationally representative survey of public attitudes about children's mental health. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they thought children with major depression would be dangerous to themselves or others; 33 percent said they believed children with A.D.H.D. were likely to be dangerous...
...Another study released in March found about one in five parents saying they would not want children with A.D.H.D. or depression as their neighbors, in their child's classroom or as their child's friends.
It's deeply ironic that at a time when more than ever is known about children's mental health needs and more methods than ever exist to help kids with behavioral or emotional issues, the stigma attached to those problems won't budge. Instead, our brave new world of diagnosis and treatment has spurred new kinds of myth-making and prejudice.
Warner is quite right that, every time we get a new label to describe cognitive and behavioral differences, we just end up with a new prejudice. This is where we are today with the medicalization of human diversity: if a few psychologists get together and decide to call something a disorder, that instantly makes the most revolting bigotry OK in many people's minds. The concept of the autism spectrum has only been in the clinical parlance since 1994, but we have politicians like Hillary Clinton who see nothing wrong with the idea of wiping out the entire spectrum through eugenic abortion, just because of the label. Makes me wonder—how quick would Hillary change her tune if the psychs invented Pandering Syndrome and diagnosed her with it?
Then again, habitual pandering already fits into the criteria for sociopathy. Not that you'll ever see anyone with money and clout getting that diagnosis. That's all right, though, because sociopaths deserve equal rights and recognition of their ability to contribute to society, too. Just think, if the whole sociopath spectrum got wiped out tomorrow, we'd have a major shortage of politicians, CEOs, and lobbyists. I have the utmost respect for Hillary's neurodiversity. But I digress.
About a hundred years ago, when a murder or other serious crime was committed in the United States, most newspapers would gleefully report that the suspect was an immigrant, or a Jew, or a Catholic, or a "Negro," or anything other than the native-born white Protestant face of "normal" America.
Eventually, things changed for the better. Publishers implemented rules for non-biased reporting that instructed journalists not to mention race, religion, or other personal characteristics that were irrelevant to the story. That went a long way toward reducing society's prejudices against minority groups.
Nowadays, people who have been diagnosed with so-called mental disorders are fair game in many journalists' minds. Just as ethnic and religious minorities were stereotyped as having a natural inclination toward criminal behavior a century ago, neurological minorities have to contend with the same sort of ignorant attitudes today.
If you're interested in contributing to a worthy initiative to reduce such bigotry, you may want to consider donating to the Carter Center, as I do. In addition to the Center's better-known activities of monitoring elections and funding public health efforts in emerging democracies, it is also the home of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, a program that teaches journalists how they can improve the public's understanding of mental health issues and play a critical role in reducing stigma and discrimination.