Mental illnesses

Mental illnesses are illnesses that cause changes in emotion, thought, or behavior (or a combination of these). Distress and/or issues functioning in social, job, or family activities are common symptoms of mental diseases.

Mental illness is a common occurrence. During a particular year:

  • Nearly one-fifth of all adults in the United States (19%) suffer from mental illness.

  • One in every 24 people (4.1%) suffers from a major mental illness*.

  • One in every twelve people (8.5%) has a diagnosable substance abuse problem.

Mental illness can be managed. The great majority of people with mental illnesses go about their daily lives unaffected.

There is no correlation between mental illness and violence. News stories and media portrayals continue to reinforce the stereotype that people with psychiatric illnesses are more violent.

However, the recent killing in North Carolina of a kid with schizophrenia reminds us that people with psychiatric impairments are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than offenders. Keith Vidal, an 18-year-old with a history of mental illness, was shot and died on January 5, 2014, according to news sources. A police officer responding to a call for assistance from the teen's family reportedly tased him and then shot him.

Although I am not involved in this case, it raises numerous issues of interest, including psychosis and violence. These two problems are not interchangeable, contrary to popular belief.

People are debating whether Vidal's death was the consequence of a cop acting in self-defense or using excessive force to control the allegedly crazy kid.

Discrimination and stigma surrounding mental diseases are nothing new, to be sure. It is fueled by news and media depictions of psychiatric distress and violence, which have a significant impact on the public's perceptions. Discrimination and stigma have serious consequences.

Although it is unclear if Vidal's shooter was provoked or not, we do know that the vast majority of news reports about mental illness either focus on the disorder's other negative traits, such as impulsivity, unpredictability, and unsociability. Positive anecdotes about people recovering from even the most severe mental diseases are conspicuously missing. Others may be terrified by inaccurate and stereotypical depictions of mental illness.

People with mental problems do, on sometimes, commit violent acts. Substance abuse or dependence; a history of violence, juvenile imprisonment, or physical abuse; and recent stressors such as being a crime victim, divorced, or losing a job are all risk factors that might lead to violence.

It'll be fascinating to see how Vidal's death tale develops. Meanwhile, this case emphasizes the importance of increased mental health knowledge and understanding.