Jail is not right for people with a mental illness

Jail is not right for people with a mental illness Feb 11th * Forum Admin Note – 60 minutes tonight did a news story on Mental Illness and Prisons. Read about it at the end of this article.
February, 2007 — Recently an article was printed in The News-Press that was taken from The Associated Press entitled \”Mentally ill inmates spur ‘SWAT’ Team.\”

After the shock wore off and I was able to breathe again, I felt compelled to contact The News-Press, and encourage them to print a different perspective.
As the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Lee County affiliate, I had to counter the overwhelming amount of misinformation-
information and damaging statements that ran rampant through what I can only loosely call an \”informational\” news piece. Honestly, I expected better from the Associated Press.
For those of us who live with a mental illness, or who have a loved one diagnosed with a mental illness, it is never easy to read statements like \”the mentally ill\” because it strips away dignity, respect and person hood, and defines an individual by only one aspect of their lives. It makes a person feel like a walking disability.
Instead of Liz Givens, executive director, wife, friend and co-worker, I become the schizophrenic, or the manic-depressive.
If we can ever hope to change the way society views mental illnesses, we need to change the way we talk about those living with one. And yet this article quotes mental health professionals referring to the individuals they assist as \”the mentally ill.\” What hope can an advocacy agency like NAMI have in implementing change when the people who are on your side use language that disempowers?
Sadly, that was the issue that concerned me the least about this article. What was true about the information presented? It does draw attention to a very serious issue: jails have become psychiatric holding facilities.

Inadequate resources

Resources are ever shrinking, and people spend lengths of time without treatment, without medication that assists in symptom management, living with impaired judgment that can result in run-ins with the law. It is also true that those working in corrections would find basic mental health training an asset when interacting with someone who is not stabilized on medication, because it helps keep everyone involved safe, and reinforces the need for empathy and compassion for those with psychiatric disabilities.

Here are some facts from a variety of reliable sources, such as NAMI National, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Treatment advocacy Center:
An estimated 3.5 million Americans today suffer from the severest forms of serious brain disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (2.2 million people suffer from schizophrenia and 1.3 million suffer from bipolar disorder).
The National Advisory Mental Health Council estimates that 40 percent of these individuals, or 1.4 million people, are not receiving treatment on any given day.

Recent studies have shown that about half of those individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder have acutely impaired self-awareness of their illness; there is no self-recognition of the illness because their brain disease has affected the frontal-lobe circuits necessary for complete self-awareness. These individuals do not realize that the hallucinations, delusions and paranoia they are experiencing are in fact symptoms of their illness.

Lack of treatment

Violent episodes by individuals with untreated schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have risen, now accounting for at least 1,000 homicides annually (out of a total of 20,000 murders) in the United States. People who live with mental illnesses are no more violent than the rest of society. However, the pattern that is evident in the above statements can be summed up in one word: UNTREATED.

Jail is not treatment, jail is the result for some due to a lack of treatment. Although, if I were faced with the taunting and physical assault that was given the obviously unstable individual in the West Palm prison from the \”SWAT\” team, I might resort to a violent act myself. And just out of curiosity, exactly what diseases do people living with a mental illness carry, as was stated in this article? I am grateful, as are many individuals in this community, for the willingness of our law enforcement community to not only acknowledge this issue, but tackle it head-on. Many of our finest have voluntarily taken Crisis Intervention Training, which involves a weeklong educational seminar on interacting with those in crisis, including verbal de-escalation techniques and empathy building. I am confident that those who have taken this training would never egg an unstable person on, taunting them to \”speak to me like a man,\” as was done in the West Palm facility.

Mental illnesses are diseases of the brain, there is more than one of them, and they are treatable. I encourage all of you in our community to educate yourself on mental health issues by contacting our affiliate, NAMI Lee County, at 278-0981.

Guest Opinion: Elizabeth Givens
Originally posted on January 31, 2007

— Elizabeth Givens is executive director of the Lee County, FL affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses.

Feb 11th 2007
The Death Of Timothy Souders
You wouldn’t imagine these days that a mental patient could be chained to a concrete slab by prison guards until he died of thirst, but that’s how Timothy Souders died and he is not the only one.
Souders suffered from manic depression. And like a lot of mental patients in this country, he got into trouble and ended up not in a hospital, but in jail. It was a shoplifting case and he paid with his life. Go to CBS.com

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