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Ms. Pan and the Inlander have done a great community service by bringing the facts of Not Guily by Reason of Insanity acquittals to our attention. NGRI is tremendously difficult to achieve and, as stated in this article, very often results in greater detention lengths than a guilty verdict. It is time to dispel the myths about NGRI as well as those about mental illness in general. Here are some additional facts about mental illness.
1. Mental illnesses are brain disorders. They are actual illnesses for which there are treatments and medications. Like someone with any other chronic illness (e.g., epilepsy, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, etc.) , an individual with a mental illness, with the proper treatment and help, can manage the illness and live a rewarding life.
2. People with mental illnesses are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. In fact, the rate of violence among individuals with mental illnesses is comparable to the rate of violence among people in the general population.
3. People with mental illnesses need mental health treatment, not punishment. Any system that punishes rather than treating them fails to solve the problem that caused their inability to conform to societal expectations and rules, making reoffense more likely.
4. 26.2% of all of us lives with a diagnosable mental illness. Six to nine percent of us has a "serious" mental illness. Two percent of us have bipolar disorder. One percent of us live with schizophrenia. That means that you very likely know, live near, or work with someone with a mental illness even if you do not know that they are ill. People with mental illnesses are not an unknowable "they." They are us.
If you or a loved one are coping with a mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers education, support, and advocacy absolutely free of charge. For more information, please call NAMI Spokane at (509)838-5515 or NAMI Washington at (206)783-4288 or search the web for NAMISpokane.org and NAMIWA.org.
I applaud the Inlander for embarking upon this series. Few illnesses are as universally misunderstood and universally feared as mental illnesses. Myths and prejudices feed the enormous stigma surrounding mental illnesses, most often discouraging individuals from identifying as having a mental illness and all too often also dissuading them from seeking treatment. Here are some important facts that should be generally known.
1. Mental illnesses are brain disorders. Just as no one chooses to have a malfunction of any other major organ, no one chooses to have a mental illness.
2. Mental illnesses are non-discriminatory. They do not just happen in certain situations, families, groups, or populations.
3. Mental illnesses are not just the product of bad parenting or bad decision making, though such environmental and situational factors can augment their ill effects in some instances.
4. Treatments for mental illness do exist, though each individual's reaction to and/or tolerance of those treatments vary.
5. There are many reasons that an individual with a mental illness might not seek treatment, including fear of the reactions of others and the stigma involved, and extreme negative reactions to the very powerful medications used to control symptoms of mental illnesses. In addition, 40-60% of individuals with mental illnesses lack knowledge, insight, and/or understanding of their illness. This is not a character defect, but rather, is a symptom of the illnesses.
6. People with mental illnesses are no more violent than those in the population at large. In fact, they are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. When they do strike out, they are more likely to strike out at themselves than others. This is a sure driver of Washington state's suicide rates, which are well above the national average.
7. Recovery happens. Most individuals with mental illnesses live rewarding lives when they get the right treatment. You may even know someone who is in recovery, though they may not reveal themselves as such to you because of the stigma attached to such an admission.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a grassroots organization that provides education, support, and advocacy for individuals with mental illnesses and their families and friends. NAMI provides a full range of educational programs and support groups, all free of charge. For the programs and schedules in Spokane, please see http://www.nami.org/MSTemplate.cfm?MicrositeID=352 or call (509)838-5515.
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