By Kimberly Zapata
Steve Bannon has quite the reputation.
He is the former executive chair of Breitbart News, which, according to the company’s website, is “the biggest source of breaking news…thought-leading commentary, and original reporting…for the new generation of independent and conservative thinkers.”
He is a driving force behind the alt-right movement, and much like Breitbart, he is known for his “hard hitting, no-holds-barred” approach. In other words, much of the language he has used — and continues to use — to describe women, members of the LGBT community, and non-Whites is considered offensive, at best. (Bannon has called women “bimbos,” has referred to feminists as “dykes” and has verbally abused female employees, and the Southern Poverty Law labeled Breitbart as part of the “extremist fringe of the conservative right [with] racist ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas.”
However, despite his track record, Bannon’s recent comments regarding mental illness caught me off guard. Why?
Well, I honestly don’t know why — at this point, I should expect the unexpected — but perhaps it was because his approach was unlike anything I’ve heard before. You see, Bannon doesn’t believe the “cure” for mental illness lies in better health care, public awareness, or peer support programs. No. Not even close. According to The Hill, the cure for the “mental health issue” is discipline. It is violence:
I’ve got a cure for the mental health issue. Spank your children more.
(Stunned? Yup. Speechless? Uh-huh. Outraged? Yeah, me too.)
However, while this comment upsets me and infuriates me, while it makes me want to scream and rant and rage against the quickly crumbling machine, I know that will not do me any good, it will not do the millions of Americans who suffer from a mental health condition any good, and it will not help to reshape our collective mental health conversation. So instead of “unleashing hell,” I’m going to take a few minutes to break Bannon’s comments down in an insightful and informed way. And I hope you will, too.
Can mental illness be willed away, prayed away, and/or beat out of one’s body as Bannon implies?
The short answer is no. Not at all. Willpower cannot cure mental illness. Prayer cannot cure mental illness, and physical violence will not make one’s anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health condition disappear. Period.
But is there any basis behind Bannon’s idea? I mean, we’ve become soft as a society. Could spanking and/or inflicting physical punishment on a child help them better handle life and be THE answer to the mental health crisis in America?
No, no, no. Absolutely not. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the opposite is true. Spanking is inextricably linked to mental illness, and “the use of physical punishment to discipline children…[has been] associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and several personality disorders. [What’s more,] researchers found 2 percent to 7 percent of mental disorders were attributable to physical punishment…[leading] study authors [to] conclude reducing physical punishment may help decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population.”
Is there anything parents can do to prevent mental illness?
Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire way to prevent mental illness. However, according to Mental Health America (MHA), there are several things parents can do to help prevent their child from developing mental health problems:
Promoting a child’s mental health means helping a child feel secure, relate well with others and foster their growth at home and at school. We do this by helping to build a child’s confidence and competence — the foundation of strong self-esteem. [And] this can be achieved by providing a child with a safe and secure home; warmth and love; respect; caring and trusting relationships with family, friends, and adults in the community; opportunities to talk about experiences and feelings; time to play, learn, and succeed; encouragement and praise; and consistent and fair expectations with clear consequences for misbehavior.
If a parent, teacher, and/or guardian is worried “a child may be experiencing a mental health problem, it is important for adults to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional…[as] treating mental health problems early may help to prevent a more serious illness from developing in the future.” However, it should be noted that, despite a parent(s) best efforts, children can and do develop mental health conditions, as there are genetic and/or biological components to mental illness which cannot be ignored.
That said, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum — whether you love President-elect Trump’s chief strategist or loathe him — please understand that comments like these aren’t just upsetting; they are uninformed and ignorant. They are dangerous, and we deserve better.
We need to demand better.
© 2016 Kimberly Zapata, as first published on Sammiches & Psych Meds