Confronting the stigma of violence and mental illness
Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, a psychiatrist and CEO of The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, discusses why the stigma of violence associated with the mentally ill is unfair and how we can change it.
I think the reason for the stigma about mental illness has to do with fear, has to do with lack of knowledge.
In many ways, society is tolerated that. [SOFT MUSIC]
Studies estimate and the National Institute of Mental Health reports that one out of four people
will have a mental illness during the course of their life. In my experience, when I speak to people,
everybody is affected by having a loved one or they themselves with a mental illness. The goal of deinstitutionalization,
a number of years ago, was to have people be able to live more full healthy lives out in the community.
It's a great goal. For some people, it's really worked, but for many people, the resources necessary to do that, the outpatient support
systems, the housing available hasn't been adequate. That's resulted in many people, who in the past
would have been institutionalized, not being in an institution. And without proper outpatient care, they become ill.
Sometimes, they become homeless. Sometimes, they get involved in the criminal justice system. So as a result of their illness, they may get arrested.
Unfortunately, there are more people with a psychiatric illness in a jail today,
in the prison system today than there are in psychiatric hospitals. That's a big problem. We need to make sure that people who have a psychiatric illness
and get involved in the criminal justice system get treatment, not jail. The connection between violence and mental illness
is, first of all, most violent occurs by people who don't have a mental illness. Number two, more frequently, people
who have a mental illness are the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators of violence.
There are some people with a mental illness who, as a result of their illness, can become violent
if their illness is untreated. Unfortunately, that's what gets all the headlines, and that's why there is this association
in the general public's perception of an association between violence and mental illness.
But the reality is people have a mental illness, and it's under treatment. They are not likely to become violent,
and people have no reason to be afraid. I think that when there's a mass shooting
and there's some relationship that shows that the person had a psychiatric illness that was untreated,
that should be a teachable moment. When those tragedies occur, it's an opportunity to encourage people to seek treatment,
to encourage their loved ones to seek treatment. It should be an opportunity for us as a field to educate the public and engage the public.
As people better understand psychiatric conditions, whether it be professionals, the lay public,
I think that we're in an exciting time for the prejudice to end. More and more people will be comfortable to publicly speak,
not only famous people but regular people, about depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, schizophrenia more openly.
And that's a tremendous step forward for the future of psychiatry and for our patients and families.
mental health behavior
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