Mental health a sweeping problem in US, needs to be acknowledged

In the wake of seemingly countless unprecedented murders, the public is not at fault for assuming something must be wrong with the minds of these killers. In most cases, it is likely.

Some possess mere anger management issues. Some are diagnosed schizophrenics, such as the Aurora shooter James Holmes.

Many live their day-to-day lives with unaddressed and undiagnosed disorders from major depression to multiple personality disorder.

Harming and even killing another living being is never dismissible, but it's time for American society as a whole to address its mental health if we wish to put an end to the unpredictable rampages.

People with mental illnesses are often considered abnormal, but that is only because in general — we are uneducated. 

One in 4 American adults lives with a mental disorder. One in 5 American youths suffer, too. Numbers cannot lie. We cannot continue to consider mental illness taboo: It is real, it is common and it is prevalent.

Unfortunately, in 2013, 60 percent of adults and 50 percent of adolescents responded that their mental illness was not being treated, nor had they reached out for professional help in the last year.

Now, why is that? Probably because depending on insurance and a patient’s needs, a single hour-long session can cost up to $240. Therefore, one session can empty many wallets very quickly. Suppose their therapist directed them to a psychiatrist, who then prescribed them some pretty little fixer-upper pill that 1 in 5 Americans are now taking. Now, that person is taking their medication and experiencing some unfortunate side effects, but their doctor tells them it is to be expected and that they must stay on their medication if they want to “feel better.” So they do.

They take their medication until one pill just isn’t keeping the voices out of their heads, or until they can’t even afford the prescription refills anymore. Then, they are back at square one. With an illness, hopefully a diagnosis and no practical solution.

So, here — they may start pouring money into the pocket of another psychologist’s office, they may harm themselves (90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental disorder) or they might harm someone else.

Unfortunately, those first two options won’t turn too many heads. However, the second that person ends up harming another, we blame the disease.

It's often the disease that guardians, teachers, peers and coworkers likely ignored. The disease that was too expensive to try to treat. The disease that this country refuses to recognize as a true disability until it makes a click-worthy headline.

At that point it is too late to “fix” that particularly ill person, so it is completely acceptable to criminalize their illness — according to the media.

That person was sick before the crime was committed and will remain that way if they do not get help. As a society we need to stop trying to criminalize mental disorders, and start trying to treat those who have them. 

However, treatment is not synonymous with some random concoction of tranquilizers and vitamin B-12 shoved into a little pill: it is getting to the root of the gaps in our population’s brains, providing them with coping strategies and giving them reasons to believe they may be different, but they are not broken.


Reach the columnist at Kendra.Penningroth@asu.edu or follow @KPenningroth on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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