On not being mistaken for a killer: Gender differences in mental illness stigma

As much as I worry that knowledge of my illness would make people perceive me as an incompetent worker and an undesirable companion, I have to admit that I’ve never once worried about being mistaken for someone who might commit a mass shooting. The worst stereotypes about women with mental illness becoming violent are that we’d harm family members and stalk friends/lovers — but we’re not viewed as posing any threat to the public at large. If I were a man with the same disorders, though, I might worry that knowledge of my illness would make people afraid that I’m hiding a gun in my backpack. And after every mass shooting, I’d be waiting for the media coverage and heightened public fear to make my everyday attempts to connect with people that much more painful.

Everyone understands that mass shootings are unspeakably tragic for the people directly involved. But even without any direct connection to the shooting or its victims, men with mental illness may be terribly affected by these incidents in a way that is both profound and personal.

Honestly, I’d never really given this gender difference much thought before a male friend brought it up in response to my recent post on stigma. To my friend: Thank you for being willing to explain this to me. I could tell that it wasn’t an easy thing for you to do, and I am grateful for it.

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