By: Hannah Cohen — Guest Correspondent
In the United States, about one in five adults experience mental illness in a given year. These issues vary from addiction to depression. The amount of services to help those with mental health problems is grossly inadequate due to public and personal stigma on mental health. People are less likely to seek treatment when they have a personal stigma. Many times, this can lead to criminalization instead of treatment. Criminalization and stigmatization contribute to the lack of adequate mental health services and a lack of desire for mentally ill people to seek treatment for themselves.
People with mental health disorders are incarcerated more often than they are treated. CQ Researcher writer Sarah Glazer says in her article that many states have lost funding for mental health hospitals, causing them to have to close down. This has led to more people with mental illnesses ending up in jail and prisons. Since mental health clinics and hospitals have closed in recent years, people cannot necessarily receive treatment. Due to this, these people are more likely to be arrested because their behavior may be deemed suspicious or harmful to others by law enforcement. Generally, this is not true, but as a result of this assumption, more mentally ill people are vulnerable to be put in prison. Additionally, Glazer notes that budget cuts for mental health services have prompted law enforcement to incarcerate many troubled people in prisons that are not fit to treat them. Most prisons do not have mental health facilities thus resulting in people staying in jail longer and not receiving treatment. This perception that mentally ill people are dangerous has been enforced by society’s stigmatization of mental health.
The negative stigmas of mental health in people, specifically children, have been reinforced by people in society for years. After the Parkland shooting, people stereotyped all of those with mental health disorders to be murderous and threatening. Esther Calzada, a clinical child psychologist, talks about how Donald Trump has degraded mental health while he is in office. “President Donald Trump reinforced archaic notions of mental illness as a character flaw to be punished. And our collective silence only breeds misunderstandings of our children’s symptoms and needs,” said Calzada. This ideology that mental illness should be punished because it is ‘dangerous and unnatural’ leads to people not seeking treatment. Instead of punishing students for struggling and needing support, society should be encouraging those who need help to reach out. Furthermore, schools have enforced this concept that mental health is bad and should be disciplined. Calzada cites a statistic from the National Institute of Mental Health, claiming that one in five children have a severe mental illness and are penalized for showing their symptoms. When students are punished for their mental health disorders, they are less likely to want help later on in their life as they are taught that their problems are indictable, not treatable. Personal stigma greatly affects people’s ability to receive the support and treatment they need.
The best solution to solving this problem would be to have better access to mental health support, specifically in schools. According to Calzada, there are many advanced, well-developed school-based treatments that are accessible to adolescents with mental health disorders. It is wise for schools all around the nation to utilize these services, as teenagers start to develop mental health disorders. Moreover, in California, there have been questions about the concept of allowing students to take mental health sick days. Mario Koran, a writer for the Guardian, explains that a new bill would allow students to use excused absences to manage their mental health for the student’s benefit. Mental health sick days allow students to take a day to work on their emotional well-being, just like they would if they were physically hurt or sick. If all schools allowed this, students would have the opportunity to seek treatment during the day. It would also give children the chance to see that getting help is not wrong and reduce the stigma around mental health. In conclusion, reducing stigma and providing services instead of punishing people can help increase people’s willingness to receive treatment for mental health.
image from eparent.com