Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Stigma, violence and severe mental illness

A message about violence and severe mental illnesses from the Treatment Advocacy Center’s executive director

As someone who has been treated for bipolar disorder for 12 years and who has no history of violence, I understand it would be highly unfair and completely inaccurate for any organization to argue or imply that all people with severe mental illnesses are dangerous. That has never been our position.

The Treatment Advocacy Center has repeatedly pointed out that people with severe mental illnesses who receive proper treatment are no more likely to commit violent acts than people without severe mental illnesses. However, we simply cannot ignore the evidence that shows that people with severe mental illnesses who go untreated are more likely to commit violent acts.

We are very sensitive to the need not to stigmatize people with mental illnesses. Again, as a person who has struggled with bipolar disorder, my attitude toward others who struggle with mental illnesses is one of compassion and empathy. Our overriding desire is to help people who may not be able to help themselves – not to cast a negative light on them.

The Treatment Advocacy Center publicizes stories about people with mental illnesses who commit harm to themselves or others to highlight the need for better treatment laws and practices. We are not the source of stigma. Rather, the stigma arises because of the tragic number of incidents in which people neglected by a broken system end up committing harm to themselves or others. Our mission is to bring about more effective and timely treatment for people with severe mental illnesses. When we succeed in fulfilling this mission, violent acts and resulting stigma are reduced.

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