Mental illness afflicts huge numbers of the U.S. population and yet there is no standard playbook to deal with it effectively. The statistics of people suffering from various conditions are staggering. This does not take into account the millions who have yet to be diagnosed, or are unaware they are victims of this life-altering malaise.
The spectrum of mental illness is wide. Moderate suffers may be able to carry on normal pursuits, relationships and careers. But there are those who get progressively dysfunctional and pose a danger to themselves and those around them.
Tragic mayhem stemming from mental illness has become almost a daily affair. The massacres at Virginia Tech, the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, CT, the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO, the Washington Navy Yard, the Tucson shopping center gunman — the frightening list goes on. There is public outcry in the wake of each, and promises from the authorities for direct action. Then it dies down again until the next time, with no concrete action for future prevention taken.
These are massive disasters that draw national and global media attention. Yet there are daily events all across the nation on smaller scales that do not even garner mention. What is undeniable however is that there is a huge, growing problem of mental illness in the country, and a playbook with a concrete, comprehensive strategy and action plan needs to be devised to contain the situation.
The problem stems from the stigma attached to a sufferer of bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, anxiety disorder, Anorexia or ADHD. Mental illness can cause withdrawal, fear, pity or even a shunning of the sufferer. Victims try to conceal their condition and do not seek help. Mental illness should be treated with the same care, concern and respect as any physical illness.
People fear the side effects attached to psychiatric medications, which can often trigger unpredictable reactions. Some manifest as physical discomfort, others in spiraling emotional or cerebral sequences. Many are contra-indicative of other medications or conditions, often causing adverse, even violent outcomes. Patients can suffer consequences by not being medication-compliant, taking them improperly, or stopping them without medical advice and oversight.
An understanding of mental health and its issues, why some are more severe than others, finding means to help, or even stage an intervention– these are invaluable steps that can be taken. This is where friends, family and the wider sphere of influence come into play
If someone’s mental health is in question the following procedures should be put into motion. Observe, record and confirm any abnormal behaviors. Check to see if they are willing to seek help voluntarily. If not, bring this to the attention of concerned medical authorities.
Civil liberty and confidentiality laws often deter people from contacting medical personnel. While doctors cannot confirm or discuss a patient’s condition or treatment, they will listen to concerns and take necessary steps. Being kept informed gives them the power to deal with their patients’ problems.
Certified mental health counselors, psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family counselors, have the same authority. They are obligated under law to take action, and the process to get the victim help is put into motion.
If there is immediate danger, bring in law enforcement. If less urgent, present sworn testimony at a circuit court’s probate division. A judge’s order will bring the person in for evaluation.
This not only ensures help is administered, but can avoid tragedies occurring from escalation of such behavior. These procedures, while well known and followed within the medical and legal circles, are unknown to the public.
More than any other affliction, mental illness urgently needs a playbook to be devised. It is the only malady that can randomly impact individuals and crowds at the mercy of a deranged person. Driven by unseen devils, wreaking mayhem, the perpetrator cannot even be held responsible. He is not aware of the consequences of his madness. Fortunately, there are humane and non-invasive methods to treat mental illness that have been very successful.
By Bina Joseph
National Alliance on Mental Health
Photo by Alex Proimos – Flickr License
Photo by Benjamin Watson – Flickr License