Commentary: We Must Increase The Level Of Discourse About Mental Illness
People living with mental illness are 12 times more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator. This is as true in Wichita as it is in the rest of the United States. Of all 300 unique psychological diagnoses listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a grand total of three have any positive, statistical correlation to violent tendencies. And if violent tendencies are manifested as a result of an underlying mental illness, 97% of the time that violence is directed against the self.
Mental health practitioners across our city are increasingly concerned with the tendency to look for a link to mental illness every time we hear about a violent crime. Doing so reinforces the erroneous stereotype that mental illness is something to be afraid of. When we are afraid of it, we stigmatize those who live with it or are brave enough to talk about it. When we are afraid of it, we don’t talk about prevention and treatment. And when we are afraid of it, we drive those who genuinely need help under the rug where they cannot and do not get the treatment they need.
Mental illness across Wichita and the world deserves the same kind of transparency and understanding as physical illness. We need to achieve unqualified parity between the two in treatment options, prevention resources, education, and funding. We must increase the level of discourse about mental illness, for it is not our job to cater to the lowest common denominator—it is our job to raise it.
Resources and information on mental illness are at MHANational.org. KMUW’s mental health series is in conjunction with the Wichita Journalism Collaborative.
Eric Litwiller is the director of development and communications at the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas.