Each year, one in four Americans experiences a mental illness. Jails and prisons are sadly the largest mental health institutions in America and are often ill-equipped to deal with this problem. October 1-7, 2017, is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, which makes it the perfect time for all of us to start talking about mental illness.
There are 19 million Americans living with depression. Mental illnesses are as common as silver cars, people with brown eyes and more common than being left-handed. Despite being one of the most common illnesses, there is still a stigma attached to it and adverse consequences often follow those who disclose that they are diagnosed with a mental illness. Most persons with a mental illness will wait an average of ten years before seeking treatment, largely due to this stigma.
Many people struggle with talking about mental illness. When we start talking, we realize that mental illnesses are more common and not as mysterious as we think. And more importantly, people experiencing a mental illness need to be treated with dignity, respect, and acceptance so they will be more apt to get the help and care they need.
Recently, Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie and their colleagues from Ramsey and Washington County hosted an educational forum for professionals on mental illness in the criminal justice system. As many learned, the mental health system is not broken, it was never fully built. Many criminal offenders have a mental illness and while it is always a priority to make sure individuals are held appropriately accountable and the public is kept safe, we also must understand the mental health needs of these defendants and inmates. Also, many persons with a mental illness fall victim to crimes and their needs must remain a priority as well. To do these things, it is vitally important to insure that enough resources are provided to all working in our criminal justice system to address the mental health needs of those who come in contact with it.
County Attorney Backstrom commented: "Mental illnesses are biological conditions that can be treated, just like cancer and diabetes. They cannot be overcome through will power. Treatments for serious mental illnesses exist today and are highly effective. In fact, between 70-90 percent of peoples' symptoms are reduced when following individualized treatment plans."
Sheriff Leslie stated: "We can't simply arrest our way out of this problem. It is important to talk about mental illness and encourage people to seek help. And it is vital to diagnose and treat mental illness as soon as possible. Doing so will help us reduce crime and keep our communities safer."
National Mental Illness Awareness Week will be marked by community education efforts to raise awareness that mental illnesses are treatable medical conditions, and that there is help and hope for children and adults with mental illnesses and their families. To find out more, go to www.namihelps.org.
For more information on the educational forum, presentations or upcoming events, please call 651-438-4440.