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Supporting the Mentally Ill

I envy other minority groups. I don’t envy their struggles (I know firsthand what many of those are like) but I envy their ability to be seen, heard, gather support, and organize.

When marriage equality was being voted on, social media turned into a rainbow of color. There were millions of people ready to show their support for the LGBT community. I thought it was amazing to watch.

Earlier in the year, after many unarmed black men were killed, the movement Black Lives Matter started. I saw the hashtag and support all over social media.

On July 6th a 33-year-old man with schizophrenia was shot and killed by Los Angeles police.

According to a June 30th article in the Washington Post, the shooting in Los Angeles of John Barry is not unusual. “Nationwide, police have shot and killed 124 people this year who… were in the throes of mental or emotional crisis, according to a Washington Post analysis. The dead account for a quarter of the 462 people shot to death by police in the first six months of 2015.”

If the Post article is accurate, a fourth of all people shot by police in this country are mentally ill. I haven’t seen anything about this on social media. I haven’t seen any hashtags indicating that the lives of the mentally ill are important, or that they matter. The truth is, I rarely see any news coverage on these deaths.

There are many issues (critical, important issues) that need to be addressed in this country. Unarmed black men being shot is definitely one of them, and right up there with that, is mentally ill people being shot. People dying on our streets isn’t an issue that can be ignored. We are talking about innocent lives being lost.

I am not at all against law enforcement. When I feel threatened or I see someone else in a threatening position, I don’t hesitate to call the police. I need that relationship to the police. I need to be able to trust and rely upon them. If I was psychotic though, all that trust would be gone because I wouldn’t be thinking rationally and I would most likely be overcome by thoughts of fear and paranoia. In a mental health crisis, I need someone who can deal with my psychosis without immediately interpreting my illness as a threat.

We need a system in place where people that are trained to handle mental health issues ride with police and try to deescalate problems before deadly force is used. I don’t expect police officers to be specialists in every situation – being a mental health professional takes years of training just like investigating and responding to crimes takes training.

I don’t want to be researching information on schizophrenia or mental health tomorrow and discover that yet another mentally ill person has died because they were acting erratically and in a way that was perceived as threatening.

I know that I could easily find myself face to face with police during severe symptoms of my illness and I know that I have never been violent but I could be confused, frightened, unable to follow orders, and extremely paranoid – all things that could be perceived as a threat.

I envy  the Black Lives Matter movement. I wish I could bring as much attention to the plight of the mentally ill who are also dying on the streets of our cities and towns.

I wish I didn’t always feel like my people, those of us with schizophrenia, were the last and the least. If social media lit up with support for those of us with a brain disease, saying that our lives are equal and that our deaths won’t go unnoticed, I would be driven to my knees because there has been silence and inactivity for so long.

We have family. We have friends. We have lives. We matter. Think about it, and if it moves you, raise awareness by using the hashtag #mentalillness and link to some of the articles about people with a mental illness being shot. They are easy to find, you can search on Google. Make a step, raise awareness. We all need to feel supported. Please give us yours.

Bullets photo available from Shutterstock

Supporting the Mentally Ill


Rebecca Chamaa


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APA Reference
Chamaa, R. (2015). Supporting the Mentally Ill. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/schizophrenia-life/2015/10/supporting-the-mentally-ill/

 

Last updated: 5 Oct 2015
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