Pit bulls and Mental Illness

What’s the connection? Not much, except for two possibilities: both are misunderstood and feared. Up until the 1930’s, pit bulls were associated with kids. (Remember the Our Gang series or the mascot for Buster Brown shoes? Both were pit bulls.) Because pit bulls are a strong, intelligent breed with thick chests, big heads, and well-defined, muscled necks, they were used as working dogs, particularly in herding. But because of the fierce way they look, they were also misused and thrown into pits (according to one source) with “riled-up” bulls of the bovine kind, where spectators would place bets, to see which species survived. Today when “dog-bites-man” attacks are reported in newspapers, they are often by pit bulls. Whether the news is slanted or the so-called facts are true, I can’t say (not being an expert on dogs), but according to one animal rights group, the general public’s perception is tantamount to “canine racism.”

As for mental illness, those of us with it, or working in the field, are well aware of the stigma. Part of the problem is due to lack of care and misplaced fear. When hospitals began closing in the 1960’s, money was supposed to be transferred to local community centers. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so that jails and prisons have become the new “asylums.” With treatment, people with MI are no more dangerous than those without it, but those not treated have a higher rate of committing crimes, at least, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center’s website, particularly if drugs are part of the mix. They also have a higher rate of being victimized just as pit bulls are.

So what can we do? Advocates for animals and those with mental illnesses are working to change the public’s perception, but it will take time, money, and research. As for me, I still hold out hope for the day when not only treatment will be an option but actual cures, too. Until then, the best we can do is to speak up and raise awareness, both for our animal friends, and for those we love, care for, and care about.


About waywardweed

I am a consumer and parent of two sons, one with a mental illness and the other a third-year law student.
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8 Responses to Pit bulls and Mental Illness

  1. Having family members with mental illness and a pit bull as a family pet, I agree with you. Ignorance and misunderstanding need to be replaced with compassion and understanding. Then acceptance and compassion with further research and care can follow – a cure would be most wonderful.

    • waywardweed says:

      I don’t know of anyone with a pit bull. I think they have been given a bad rap, but hopefully that will change.

      • My pit’s name was Buddy, he was born on my birthday and was truly my buddy. He loved people, cats, other dogs and bunnies, but he would chase squirrels. His life was cut short (not quite 3 years old) under very questionable circumstances related to the father of my children after our divorce. The parallel you made in this blog was spot on. They have been given a bad rap, so have those with illnesses of the brain.

  2. Pit bulls are illegal in my province (Ontario, Canada). It infuriates me.

  3. Pingback: Faith Tatoos, the Shadow Side, Curious Relationships, and Pit Bulls: Mental Health Monday | A Way With Words

  4. waywardweed says:

    Sweetempranillo, Sorry about Buddy. Maybe someday there will be another Buddy for you. When my cat died, I thought I’d never get another, now I have two.

  5. gatito2 says:

    I don’t know what mental illness my daughter had. I don’t know if it was major depression, or bipolar, but must have been one of the two that would descend her so far into depression that she no longer wanted to live. A high achiever all her life, never a sign of depression until that policeman called to tell me she had killed herself and what she said in her suicide note. That she had been depressed all her life and hid it from us to protect us from it. No one knew. She was happy, gifted, creative, intelligent and beginning her 3rd year of medical school and the light of my entire life. Most of me died with her. I do know that she probably did not want a label and stigma associated with depression or any kind of mental illness so opted to never admit to it and it killed her. This stigma needs to stop. I just lost her 4-11-13. The brightest star in my universe, gone from this horrible disease no one wants to talk about except for the few brave that experience it or its horrible aftermath.

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