Mental health issues difficult to grasp

To the editor:

My heart goes out to “Z,” the high school student who was recently attacked in downtown Nashville, and her loved ones. The Brown County community has done a beautiful job of showing her support, and I hope that support continues in the days and months to come.

Through my work in mental health, I have learned that there are no easy answers as to why some people with certain kinds of severe mental illness periodically stop taking their medication. Sometimes they say it is associated with negative side effects associated with the medication, and sometimes it just seems to be an unfortunate and pernicious symptom of the disease itself.

This can lead to consequences that range from the inconvenient to the tragic, as the community witnessed last week. Certain kinds of severe mental illness, if left untreated, can cause people to act in ways they would abhor when they are in their right mind.

Unless an individual can be proven to be posing an active threat to their own safety or that of others, no one can legally force them to get treatment, and if they are off their medication, they may not be able to recognize that they need help.

Is this the way things should be? It is up for debate. Journalist Pete Earley’s book “Crazy: A Father’s Journey through America’s Mental Health Madness,” explores the subject in depth if you want to learn more.

Having someone in law enforcement who is trained in Crisis Intervention Team skills might give the Brown County community more tools for helping with people in psychiatric crisis before tragedy strikes. I do not know that it could have made a difference in this situation, but it could help others in the future.

Mental illness can affect anyone, and many of those living with even severe mental illness are able to build productive, happy lives for themselves with the aid of medication, therapy and a supportive community. It is not easy, though, and relapse is always a frightening possibility.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness and needs assistance, reach out to the National Association for Mental Illness at 800-950-6264.

Laura Gleason, Bloomington

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