It is widely accepted that mental health awareness and services, in most of the world, not just America, needs to improve significantly. What most Americans, not just the general populace but also seemingly those in the positions of power, fail to realize is the impact that the lack of attention on mental health is going to have in the coming years.
The easiest path to understanding the problems faced by America perhaps comes from looking at how many Americans view the link between crime and mental illness.
Today, the Boston Herald reports that over 50% of respondents in a New England Journal of Medicine Study stated that they believed mentally ill individuals were more likely to carry out violent crimes than anyone else. Of course, what this does not account for is the whole range of illnesses that come under the mental health banner. However, it is still somewhat alarming that over 50% of a questioned group would come to such a conclusion based on assumption. There is no evidence to suggest that mental health patients are any more likely to commit violent crime, even allowing for illnesses such as schizophrenia.
One of the hot topics in America right now is gun control, which begun with the Newtown shootings but has continued in the wake of a spate of shootings across the country in recent weeks, and the L.A-wide manhunt for Chris Dorner this past week. With such assumptions about mental health, the debate around new gun laws could very easily be led down the dangerous path of, “if you’re not certified as mentally ill, you can own a gun,” which would be one of the most dangerous declarations anyone could make.
If we are assuming that everyone who shoots an innocent person is a ‘psychopath,’ then we are in serious trouble. The fact that many people clearly fail to differentiate between the medical definition of ‘psychopath’ and the assumption that ‘someone capable of that must be a psychopath’ does not help at all, either.
Gun crime is not the issue here, but merely serves to bring into focus the problems faced by mental health workers, charities, and patients across the country. While the level of general ignorance is bad, the fact that at least $4billion has been cut from mental health related funding since 2008 is surely going to be a huge stain on the current administration.
It is not as if cases of mental illness are dropping, either. More people than at any stage in history are developing all manner of mental illnesses, yet the lack of funding is seeing charities fail to survive, and treatment institutions closing across the country.
Mentally Ill? Blame Yourself
What has to happen before the spotlight is placed back onto mental health? It seems that the archaic view that those with mental illnesses ‘only have themselves to blame’ is coming back into vogue, even though there is enough medical and scientific evidence to show that is not the case, and that we are all equally vulnerable to such conditions.
The lack of knowledge or the unwillingness to accept reality when it comes to mental illness is truly alarming. By writing off those who are struggling with such conditions, we are damning ourselves to a future where only massively increased spending will help to deal with the mental health ticking time bomb.
Ironically, such action will just put even more people in the mental illness cynics lobby, bringing uproar when spending is increased while it is put on hold or cut in other, ‘more important’ areas.
America has a problem with mental health, and it is time to face up to it. Resources are already thin in respect of those who require them. Stretch any further and the whole support system around mental health could collapse, which would be a disaster for the country, and its citizens.