One important issue that deserves closer public examination has been brought to the forefront by the terrible school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
And before blood pressures start to rise and rhetoric begins to flow, this isn’t about gun control. No, this is about a subject that has long remained ignored, pushed into the background and, in some cases, abandoned by this country: mental health and how society views the rights of the mentally ill and their families.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that mental illness is much more common than most suspect. Fully 10 percent of children suffer from mental disorders and among inmates in this country’s prisons the rate of mental illness stands at about one-fourth. The World Health Organization says that mental disorders account for four out of 10 reported disabilities and the rates of mental illness among the homeless populations are incalculable.
But mental disorders, unlike illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, carry a stigma that other illnesses do not. A diagnosis of mental illness is often an invitation to prejudge the individual — and not everyone is comfortable around the mentally ill. Persons with mental disorders are frequently loath to seek treatment due to this stigma. Modern decisions by American courts have made it more difficult for families to get help for the mentally ill, expanding the patients’ rights to control their medication and treatment, and limiting the ability to commit those who might be in need of more formal care.
Add to the mix that mental illness is not a glamorous cause of the day — one with celebrities flocking to raise money for research — the plights of families with severely mentally-ill people in their care grow more numerous, poignant and difficult. Unfortunately, the spotlight often only illuminates mental-illness issues when there is a crisis that brings negative attention, like the one in Newtown. But it’s an issue that should be shepherded to the forefront and treated with as much concern and openness as other diseases.
For those who do not have a personal relationship with mental illness, now is the time to realize that it’s a path no one chooses to walk. Removing the stigma associated with mental illness and working towards solutions that allow everyone touched by mental illness to live normal lives should be a common goal. Perhaps this latest tragedy will help put these concerns into sharper focus.
— From the New Bern (North Carolina) Sun Journal