People, by nature, fear what they do not understand. Mental illness is grossly misunderstood not only by the sufferers; but by the community at large, including law enforcement. This misunderstanding inevitably leads to misconception and results in stigmatization (stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace). More than 54 million Americans suffer from mental illness in any given year. 2/3rd of all people with a diagnosable mental disorder do not seek treatment. A majority of these individuals hesitate to get help for their mental health problems because of stigmatization. This is extremely unfortunate because effective treatment exists for almost all mental illnesses.
The stigma of mental health/illness in the field of law enforcement is twofold. First off, law enforcement officers are as susceptible to mental illness as is anyone else. Secondly, officers interact daily with mentally ill individuals in the community. Not only does an officer have to overcome an internal stigma, he/she must possess accurate knowledge of mental health and illness when dealing with citizens, victims, and/or suspects who have mental disorders. This is hugely significant considering that approximately 9% of all law enforcement emergency dispatch calls are related to a mental illness crisis. Misconceptions can only be corrected by educating yourself about mental health and illness. Dispelling common myths is an essential step toward abating the stigma and diminishing the fears associated with mental illness.
Top 10 Myths about Mental Illness for Law Enforcement Officers
Myth #1: Mental health problems are uncommon.
Fact: Mental illnesses are surprisingly common. In fact, mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2% of the population suffers from mental illness. Psychiatric disorders affect almost every family in America. Mental illnesses do not discriminate; they can affect anyone regardless of gender, race, age, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. According to the World Health Organization, four of the ten leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental disorders.
Myth #2: People with severe mental illness are dangerous and violent.
Fact: The vast majority of people with mental illnesses are no more violent than anyone else. In the cases when violence does occur, the incidence typically results from the same reasons as with the general public, such as feeling threatened or excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs. The media often sensationalizes accounts of crime by a mentally ill individual. Actually, people with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of crime. More than 25% of persons with severe mental illness were victims of a violent crime in the past year, a rate more than 11 times that of the general population.
Myth #3: Mental illnesses are not real medical problems or diseases.
Fact: The definition of disease is A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes. The brain is an organ; lungs, the heart, liver, kidneys, skin, etc are examples of other organs. Mental illness is a disorder of the brain. Brain disorders are related to anomalies of the brain's chemistry at nerve cell junctions and metabolism in different brain regions. Brain disorders, like heart disease and diabetes, are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.
Myth #4: People who talk about suicide do not commit suicide.
Fact: Few people commit suicide without first letting someone else know how they feel. 8 out of 10 people who commit suicide have spoken about their intent before killing themselves. Suicidal comments have to always be taken seriously as they often lead to plans, attempts, or completions.