All over the internet and the news, stories of “Zombie” attacks across the country are surfacing. One man was killed by police while chewing off another man’s face. A woman in Texas kills her baby and eats the baby’s brains. Another young man from Florida kills and eats his roommate.
Riding the wave of popularity of zombies in current culture created by shows like “The Walking Dead” and a nostalgic affinity for comic books, these news stories have been posted all over social media by right wing nut job bloggers, end-of world preppers and college students looking for a laugh, all touting the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. “Bath salts”, LSD, and satanic possession have all been blamed for this cannibalistic outbreak, yet I have yet to see an article that truly touches on the very real problem evident in these tragic events.
While there is no doubt that a mentally ill person hopped up on meth is as close to a real zombie as we are likely to see, yet I find a real troubling aspect of these stories in the apathy shown when addressing the dark corners of human behavior by using sci-fi pop culture and comic book references. All of these cases resulted from real-life mental illness, and whether you think these people should be locked up in a prison, committed to a psychiatric ward, or executed, you cannot simply laugh this off as some sort of cosmic joke. The man who lost his face will not wake up craving brains; he will wake up blind, traumatized, and in excruciating pain, all which will affect him for the rest of his life. The college student from Florida and the baby in Texas will not come back from the dead to haunt humanity. They are gone forever, and the individuals who killed them will have to live with that fact for the rest of their lives, which will undoubtedly be spent locked up in an institution.
No one kills and eats another human being for the fun of it. These people are slaves to their malfunctioning brains, which presents them with a personal reality completely different than what we experience. These people have families who will see their loved ones being called zombies and monsters, and they will know that their son or daughter is not a monster, but a person who a normal child who wanted to grow up and do all the same things we did. A person later haunted by mental illness and drug addiction. A person with a brain so broken it told them that eating someone’s flesh was appropriate. A person who, when given proper treatment for their illness, will realize the full gravity of what they have done. The people involved in these stories , whether perpetrator, victim, or family member are not in a comic book world of brain-eating zombies, they are in a very real hell on earth where an entire society and an entire country makes jokes at their expense while their world falls apart, instead of addressing and analyzing the real problems that brought about the deaths of three innocent people.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness affecting 1 out of 100 adults, about 2 million people in America. Schizophrenia costs society billions a year in treatment and billions in other societal costs. Sufferers of schizophrenia have trouble telling what is real and what is not. Because it is their own mind portraying them, they often have no concept of the reality that everyone else takes for granted. Often, symptoms do not present themselves until 18 to 24 years of age. Once it does, over 10% of these sufferers will commit suicide. The diagnosis is not hopeless, though. With treatment, a majority of these people can live normal lives. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance that a sufferer will, through medication and treatment, recover. Yet instead of addressing this mental illness when it manifests itself in horrific situations, the media and society begins blaming drugs, zombies and the devil. Instead of using these stories to bring attention to mental illness, we de-humanize the perpetrators and the victims by conjuring images of ghoulish monsters and joking about the zombie apocalypse on Facebook. I, of all people, believe in no limits on satire in addressing societal problems, but I would like to see the majority of society, in particular main-stream media, to at least address these real-life situations and issues with some amount of seriousness and sincerity. Maybe then the next person will seek help before becoming another news-cycle zombie.