Mental Health Awareness Month

October is the beginning of mental health awareness month. One in five people experience some sort of mental illness every year, whether it is anxiety, depression or ADHD. One in 25 people have a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Mental illness is one of the most misunderstood diseases. The mentally ill have also been persecuted throughout history and remain largely oppressed.

According to the website Al-Jezeera, prisons have 10 times the number of mentally ill than do mental institutions. 20 percent of prisoners have some sort of mental illness. Mental illness has been largely ignored and underfunded. Mental illness costs the US 193.2 billion dollars a year. Depression is also the leading cause of work related absences.

In Texas, there is a much larger demand for mental health services than there is a supply. Patients in Texas can wait up to a month to see a psychiatrist to prescribe medication or be given a diagnosis. A month to someone who hears voices in their head, someone who is constantly anxious or someone who is chronically depressed can be too much of a wait for them.

Unsurprisingly, most cases of mental illness occur in the late teens or early twenties. However, many of these people, and a majority of people with mental health issues will not report their symptoms or will deny anything is wrong.

Throughout history the mentally ill have been beaten, manipulated, experimented upon and systematically murdered. The mentally ill were the first group to be killed in Nazi Germany’s hospitals during their euthanasia program. Ironically, there is a consensus that Hitler had a narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathy.

In the 1980s during the Reagan administration, millions of mentally ill were released from hospitals and left with nowhere to get treatment or a place to live. Unsurprisingly, homelessness, violence and crime skyrocketed. Before Reagan, homelessness was relatively little, but many severely mentally ill patients were left with no place to go and 26 percent of those in homeless shelters and 46 percent of homeless on the street have a severe mental illness. With the large influx of people who cannot live coherently and no longer have medication, crime became relatively common in this group. Some schizophrenics and others with severe mental disease even murdered people. The 80s and 90s saw a huge spike in crime when Reagan defunded mental hospitals. This is when prison populations exploded and the criminal justice system became a cash cow.

There is no easy answer to fix this issue. People can become more knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Support these people instead of condemning them. If we end the stigma of mental illness, more people will be comfortable getting the help they need.

Many patients do not want to take medication because they do not want to admit to themselves or society that they have a problem. Medication, therapy and public support are extremely important to getting the mental health system under control.

As a society we need to invest in awareness and support of the mentally ill. We need more psychologists and many more psychiatrists. Together we can end the stigma and violence of mental illness. Though, most mentally ill are non-violent and productive members of society.

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