Mental Health Issues in the Media By Susan Gray

Susan Gray Guest Editor
NYSILC council member Maura Kelley opened a discussion at the May full council meeting on mental health perceptions, and the need for more dialogue.  In the wake of the mass shootings in our nation, many media outlets have put their spin on this topic.  They have turned their lenses to a minority of perpetrators of these crimes, and painted with a broad brush the entire mentally ill population as being violent individuals.

This perception does not help an already faltering system that relies on its general hospitals and prisons to provide care for our populations that are labeled with a psychiatric disability.  With the advent of deinstitutionalization, there was little done to ensure that programs and systems were in place to provide the needed support to people living with a mental illness.  Even the laws currently on the books allow for outdated and archaic treatment of people labeled with psychiatric disabilities.  Parents with mental illness can still have their children taken away from them.  Also, children with mental illness are often no better off, as parents and care-givers can restrain and medicate them without their consent.

Treatments for our peers vary in effectiveness.  Also, many people do not want the stigma of taking medications for their issues, and also do not want to experience the significant side effects that the medications may cause.  Consequently, they live in fear of being locked up and forced to take these medications.  If some do happen to present with a psychotic event, most care-givers or first responders do not know how to help them and they end up in jails or in prison.  Many people with mental disorders will self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol to relieve symptoms.  This can often lead to a dual diagnosis of addiction, which then often leads to the inevitable path of homelessness.

Dual diagnosis for people with mental illness and addiction can mean difficulty locating a counselor or agency that is equipped to work with them.  Most agencies do not have properly trained staff to work effectively with such a unique set of needs.

As a society we have let this population down and not protected their rights and basic needs as equal members of our community, country, and world.  Instead, we highlight the minority of violent offenders among this population, and then look to gun control to solve these infrequent cases of violence.  What is required is an understanding of the real issues, and a revolution in the health care systems in order to provide care for people with  psychological/emotional disabilities.  The systems must be re-built with the vital input and assistance of people with psychiatric disabilities, because no one knows better what is needed for effective change than our peers.

Systems change is one of the things that NYSILC looks to in advancing the Independent Living philosophy for all people with disabilities.  Keeping the conversation going, and demanding a voice to tell the real story is key to our success.

Please HELP fight Mental Health Stigma – check out the following link from the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) – “Mental Health – Fact or Fiction:”