On Friday, April 3rd, I viewed a segment of 20/20 that discussed the abuse of emotional service animals (ESA) by individuals who simply wished to fly with their pets beside them. During this segment, a woman by the name of Genevieve falsely claimed she had an emotional illness in order to obtain an ESA. Genevieve stated, “What’s the harm?” To respond to Genevieve’s question, the harm is that individuals who genuinely need an ESA might lose their rights due to abuse of the system. Further, it is completely unethical to feign illness in order to obtain certain privileges. It is grossly insulting and offensive to those individuals who suffer from mental illness every single day. Your segment addressed these issues, and such is appreciated. However, just as I was disgusted with Genevieve’s actions, I was equally disturbed by the comments made by your correspondent. Genevieve explained that she located a website that offered a psychological evaluation, and in answering the questions in a purposeful fashion, she was then diagnosed with “panic attack disorder.” In response to this wrongly obtained diagnosis, your employee stated that Genevieve appeared “very level headed” and that she “didn’t seem like the kind of person that would suffer from panic attacks.” This leads me to question just what your program, and representatives of your network, believes a person who suffers from panic attacks looks like. To answer that question, I wish to inform you of the incredible ignorance and insult present in this comment. It should not be shocking or surprising that a person who suffers from panic attacks or anxiety appear level-headed. Why would they not? Mental illness is an invisible illness, and it is entirely possible that an individual with mental illness, including panic or anxiety disorder, lead a very successful life. Not only may a person with mental illness appear level headed; they may also be intelligent, inspiring, compassionate, organized, productive, competent, and accomplished individuals. The suggestion that individuals who suffer from panic attacks would appear somehow disheveled or physically deranged is insulting, and an apology should be offered. The comments made during this segment only further the devastating stigma that currently surrounds all mental illness.
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