I found myself asking this question after reading an article about a man in Fairview Oregon who was talking to himself in an apartment. When police arrived it was horrible, police fired several shots into the Fairview apartment after the man’s friend called 911. The man was taken to the hospital where he is in serious condition. “Is this what we are coming to?” After reading this story I found myself wondering if this is the type of society we are going to continue to foster as a result of a lack of knowledge regarding mental health issues.
We are in a serious state of emergency when it comes to severe mental illness. We have a society that lacks knowledge about the effects of severe mental illness on the human behavior. Despite numerous reports on series of similar cases, and despite knowledge expressed by organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Treatment Advocacy Center, and other such organizations, we are still in a state of emergency. News reports state that it was unclear why police had to use deadly force but the unfortunate situation here is not so much that the police had to use deadly force. The unfortunate and very frightening reality is that this man is not going to be the final man in this particular situation. We are going to have more cases such as this because we failed to understand severe mental illness and how it causes the individual to behave. Until we spread accurate, balanced information about mental health, we’re going to continue to be in this state of existence. This particular story could be your neighbor, could be you, could be someone you love, could be someone you know well, could be your dearest friend, could be your extended family, could be another stranger suffering from a psychiatric illness.
About 7.7 million Americans 18 and older suffer from severe mental illness, while about 20% of children and adolescents suffer from severe mental illness as well. The effects of mental illness on the human mind is very controversial because we live in a society that wants to perpetuate a positive outlook on mental illness. We live in a society that strives for recovery. While this is appropriate in its place, our society does not want to look at the fact that mental illness, untreated, can cause tragedies for people in society and tragedies for the individual sufferer. According to the treatment advocacy Center in Arlington Virginia, severe mental illness affects a large number of people and the results of severe mental illness are big:
1. Homelessness – about 200.000 of the 600.000 who are homeless
3. Violence – about 1,600 homicides occur a year at the hands of severe or untreated mental illness
Other issues that we fail to recognize when it comes to individuals suffering from severe and untreated mental illness is, trans-institutionalization. Trans-institutionalization is the process by which an individual constantly goes between the criminal justice system and the mental health system. For example, you have an individual who suffers from schizophrenia and his delusions tell him that he is being persecuted, controlled, and watched. This same individual listens to the delusions that tell him to stock an individual who he feels is stalking him. In this scenario the only result is either hospitalization or incarceration. In today’s society, because we lacked knowledge about mental health, this individual would likely go to prison as opposed to being hospitalized. This individual may be released from the hospital after treatment, stop taking medication, and end up back on the streets harassing people because of his delusions. As a result, someone calls the police and he is arrested, taken to jail. Instead of this individual going back to the hospital for psychiatric care, he ends up in the criminal justice system labeled as a criminal. This type of scenario is very common in matters of severe and untreated mental illness and occurs more frequently among the homeless population. The process by which the individual goes between the mental health and criminal justice system is more common than we care to recognize.
For parents, families, and caregivers dealing with similar scenarios it is difficult for them to trust the mental health system, mental health professionals, and even law enforcement because the reality is that we don’t understand a mind that is not a control of itself.
Society conceptualizes the ability to understand how to behave as possible if the individual has a high level of intelligence or common sense or the person appears capable. But the reality is that looks and intelligence can be deceiving. When someone is suffering from a severe and untreated mental illness, it is important that we understand that this individual is not being motivated by a lack of intelligence, cruelty, or any other common sense that we are used to dealing with. We must learn to look beyond the face the career, credentials, intelligent speaking person, and even the successful person in order to see that this is an individual who needs help. Until we can do this, we will continue to end up in situations where murder, incarceration, hopelessness, and the loss of more loved ones occurs.
Let’s change this saddening reality before it’s too late.
All the best
To read about the story, click here.