I’m one of the one in four people who have mental illness. And the sad thing is that people are still afraid of us. And no wonder. Every time one of us commits a crime the media goes out of their way to tell us that the perpetrator had a mental illness. If any other group got mentioned each time one of their people committed a crime we’d be scared of them too. What if the media highlighted it each time a plumber committed a crime? We’d be terrified whenever someone came over to fix the sink!
The truth is that people with mental illness commit about 5 percent of all crime. So that must mean that so-called “normal people” commit the other 95 percent. Yet the media never goes out of their way to tell us that the perpetrator was considered to be sane and well-adjusted.
As a matter of fact, being a young male is a greater risk factor for violent behavior than being mentally ill. So when enlightened organizations like the National Rifle Association demand a database of people with mental illness (or “lunatics” as they call us) to make sure that we can’t get guns, perhaps there should also be a database of all males under 30 that restricts their access to firearms.
And when people diagnosed with a mental illness do a commit a crime it’s usually because they’re not getting the treatment they need. Though the people who work in the mental health system are dedicated and caring, there just aren’t enough of them or enough resources to support them. Thousands of people fall through the cracks every day. At one point someone I knew was homeless, suicidal, and going into psychosis. It took me three days of making phone calls to find help for him. And if I, a mental health professional can’t access the system, how is someone who is losing his grip on reality and doesn’t have a phone supposed to do it?
Recovery Is Possible
We know that recovery from mental illness is possible. And I tell people that if they put in the time and effort it’s not only possible, it’s inevitable. But they can’t do it alone. The resources need to be there. And if everyone got the treatment and support they needed we’d not only avoid the possibility of crime, but also change millions of lives for the better. We’d also save billions in unnecessary court, police, jail, and emergency room costs. So making these resources available isn’t just morally right, it makes sense economically.
As a matter of fact, denying adequate funding for the mental health system is what doesn’t make sense. It’s as irrational as the stigma surrounding mental illness in the first place. So instead of continuing to propagate absurd stereotypes, let’s lobby our elected officials to get them to increase funding for mental health.