Shameful Profiling of the Mentally Ill

Maureen MurdockCriminal Justice System, Mental Illness10 Comments

In the recent Sunday New York Times, Andrew Solomon reported that a Canadian woman was recently denied entry to the United States because she had been hospitalized for depression in 2012.  She was told she could not visit unless she obtained medical clearance from one of three Toronto doctors approved by the Department of Homeland Security. A report from her personal psychiatrist verifying her health would not suffice. The border agent told her he had the right to block her entry to the U.S. because of the Immigration and Nationality Act which allows the denial of anyone if they have a physical or mental disorder that threatens anyone’s “property, safety or welfare.”

Stigmatizing a mental disorder is bad enough but now we’re stigmatizing the treatment of a mental disorder.

I bet you didn’t realize how threatening your depression might be to immigration authorities!! You’d better not travel outside the U.S. and expect to get back in if you were treated for depression last year. The woman who was denied entry was on her way to New York to board a cruise to the Caribbean!! Since when does self care threaten U.S. property, safety or welfare?

I got depressed just reading the article.

According to the infographic “Trends in Mental Disability” nearly 2 million teens or 8% of the adolescent population experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. 11.4 million adult Americans suffered from a mental illness in the past year yet only about 60% of people with mental illness get treatment each year.  Can you imagine what it’s like to suffer from a mental disorder which is painful enough, but then to be told that if you get treatment and the U.S. government finds out you were treated you might not be able to cross our borders.

This reminds me of what happened when the H.I.V. crisis broke out. For more than 20 years the United States prohibited people with H.I.V. from entering the country. We were one of a very few countries to take this bigoted stand. An activist lobby fought against the ban which was finally lifted in 2009.

In earlier times, the mentally ill were put on prison ships and sent out to sea. Now we bar them from our shores or lock them away in prison. More than most jail systems, New York City has made extensive use of solitary confinement for a high percentage of the mentally ill. Jim Dwyer of the New York Times writes that on July 23rd of this year, for instance, 102 of the 140 teenagers in solitary were suffering from either a serious or moderate mental illness.  Even for people with no history of mental health issues, prolonged isolation can lead to hallucinations. For those who are already ill, solitary accelerates existing psychiatric problems and can lead to suicide.

We need an activist lobby to prevent the US government from deliberately stigmatizing mental disorders.

10 Comments on “Shameful Profiling of the Mentally Ill”

  1. Pingback: What we Mean by Disability | People Like Me

  2. Pingback: Stop profiling people with mental illness | A Little Local Color

  3. Maureen, thank you for sharing this deeply upsetting NY Times article. I read it with horror, then printed it out and sent it to my congressman, Tim Bishop. Tomorrow I will do the same to my senators.
    Enough is enough.

  4. “Shameful and ignorant”–I agree with the comments–I did not know this about the US and am appalled by it.

  5. What words can I use for the shameful and ignorant behavior of the U.S.? What year are we living in??? Thank you for sharing this!!

  6. Wow, what a frightening consequence of seeking appropriate treatment and (presumably) being honest about it with border authorities. It’s outrageous – I have no other word for it.

  7. I was dumbfounded when I read this article. The ignorance out there is astounding. I can only imagine the anger, shame and hatred that coursed through that woman’s body and soul as she faced the border patrol.

    1. Thanks for sharing it, Kathleen. It’s almost unbelievable that we would stigmatize treatment, isn’t it? It’s bad enough that some folks who have received mental health treatment find rejection in the work place but now we are invisibilizing them through restricted borders and incarceration.

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