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The link between mental illness and criminalization

Posted on 03-27-15 in Mental Health

The link between mental illness and criminalization

One of the most controversial issues attached to mental health disorders is the criminalization of those who are facing such personal illnesses. Statistics show an alarming rate of these occurrences, with an estimated one in five people in jails or prisons that have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. This is a far less ideal situation for these individuals when they should instead be seeing a doctor and receiving the proper treatment they need. The question is how can awareness be raised among law enforcement and related organizations to prevent this from happening in the future?

Consequences of criminalization
Obviously, much of the public knows that time spent in jail and prison is intended as punishment, in which many personal freedoms are taken away. Those who are experiencing mental health issues while incarcerated often cannot depend on receiving proper professional and medical assistance as needed, if at all. Even worse, the environment within a jail or prison can create high tension and does not provide the necessary consideration for personal needs. As a result, those who are in such facilities often see a worsening of their condition. In addition, there are other concerns inmates face including being more susceptible to abuse at the hands of others, which may further exacerbate symptoms.

There are many disturbing statistics when it comes to the lives of the mentally ill who are incarcerated. These individuals are more likely to have higher rates of substance abuse disorders and homelessness. Prior to incarceration, statistics show that this demographic has also been more exposed to unemployment and physical and sexual abuse, which would naturally take a toll on anyone’s mental health.

Another negative consequence that the mentally ill will face is the lack of access to health care benefits. When an individual with a mental health disorder is released from jail or prison and is once again eligible for coverage, reapplying can be a complicated and time-consuming process. Many will need case management assistance and will suffer in their health care treatment otherwise. The cost of medical attention will certainly be much higher. Ironically, the cost of incarceration for prisoners is significantly greater than if they were to receive treatment for their condition.

Finding solutions
Though studies and research have shown that mental health and criminalization is still a problem, efforts have been made over time to change this. However, awareness still needs to increase, as most police officers are not properly trained to deal with the mentally ill. One such effort that is increasing nationwide in police departments is Crisis Intervention Teams, or CIT. These teams work to educate police officers on how to deal with people who may be experiencing psychosis. This is critical because in usual cases, police procedures may instead lead to increased instances of violence or fatal injury.

The program was first created by police in Memphis, Tenn. after police officers shot and killed a schizophrenic who was suffering from hallucinations.The CIT program has since received a number of awards over the years for acknowledging mental illness as a disease as opposed to a crime. In addition, the program also helps to dispel myths and stereotypes about police officers. The idea is to improve communication between police officers and those with mental health disorders as much as possible.

In addition, there are other options for certain offenders besides incarceration in recent years that are both more cost effective and more psychologically sound. For instance, those that are also experiencing a substance abuse disorder may be given the option of drug court. This has been shown to have a strong impact on those that are facing drug dependence. There are also diversion programs that may also serve as a positive alternative for those that are in need of treatment. In the meantime, advocacy groups and other concerned individuals should continue to do their part to make sure these people are able to find the proper solutions besides criminalization.

Sovereign Health seeks to offer the finest standard in mental health treatment for sufferers of mental health disorders and substance abuse. Our holistic treatment program includes individual therapy, group therapy, medication, effective life skills and more. Patients will also learn the significance of brain wellness in perpetuating their recovery. To see how we can best help you or a loved one deal with a mental health disorder or addiction, please contact our admissions team today at 888-530-4614.

Written by Ryan McMaster, Sovereign Health Group writer