April 25, 2014

Mental illness gets bad rap

Don’t blame mental illness for a person’s bad behavior.

One expert says following news of the movie theater massacre in Colorado, people are automatically jumping to conclusions about the killer’s mental state. “It’s like when somebody does something really terrible or abhorrent we automatically conclude they must be mentally ill. How else could they possibly do this?”

Sandy Hall is Madison College’s Disability Resource Services Director. She says the words “crazy” and “mental” should not be used interchangeably; there are many reasons individuals commit acts of violence. Hall stresses, connecting abhorrent behavior with mental illness only adds to the stigma.

Individuals living with mental illness can have productive lives at school, holding a job, serving in the community, and being a valued member of society. “I think it’s important to realize that people with mental illness when adequately treated are no more likely to be violent than the general population, and that people with mental illness — even serious mental illness — can lead successful, happy lives, even though it may be with challenges.”

Hall is worried that because of the stigma, people are less likely to seek treatment for their mental health. Additionally, Wisconsin has some great services for people with severe mental illness, but she says, not enough.

One in four adults will experience a mental health disorder in a given year, everything from mild depression to anxiety to panic disorders. One in 17 have a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. Hall says those with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators.

Sandy Hall is also the past president of the (Wisconsin Chapter) National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:50