Why ARE We Afraid of the Mentally Ill?

Maureen MurdockMental Illness11 Comments

Last month 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier was shot dead by a Chicago police officer after his father placed a 911 call because LeGrier was acting irrationally, wielding a baseball bat. This was not his first confrontation with the law but the death of LeGrier, who suffered from mental illness, gained national attention because a bystander was also killed.

10 days after Michael Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, MO. a young man suffering from mental illness, named Kajieme Powell was fatally shot by police in St. Louis. Michael Brown’s death gained national attention but Kajieme Powell’s death did not because he was mentally ill.  Why do we ignore, even justify, police killing of a mentally ill person yet give national attention to other police shooting victims?

The Washington Post reports that 25% of the victims of police killings in 2015 displayed signs of mental illness. We already know that 14% of inmates in jails and prisons suffer from a mental illness.

We have to ask ourselves Why are we so afraid of mental illness that we rely on police to deal with a mentally ill person in crisis?

Are we afraid of their disturbing behavior? Are we afraid of getting hurt? Are we afraid of not knowing how to respond? of not knowing how to de-escalate a situation? Are we afraid of those who are different than we are? Are we afraid to admit that people with a brain disorder are part of us?

Why don’t we fund and provide alternative responses to police confrontation? In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for more support for the care of the mentally ill. Unfortunately, in the past 5 years there has been a decrease in funding of mental health treatment services in states across the country. I live in Santa Barbara County which has the least amount of funding for mental health services of any county in California. What does that say about our attitude about the mentally ill?

Some law enforcement agencies are beginning to train their police to respond to mental health emergencies in Crisis Intervention Teams (C.I.T.) Cities like San Antonio are integrating mental health services with law enforcement. We need to invest in more humane treatment for those who suffer with brain disorders. I invite my readers to respond to why we fear the mentally ill.

11 Comments on “Why ARE We Afraid of the Mentally Ill?”

  1. Some of society can be terribly ignorant; they judge other people’s behaviour with out considering the cause.
    Some of society don’t understand (or try to understand) mental
    Illness or ASD. They lack education on the matter, which in turn breeds ignorance and poor judgement. Improved education could result in a better understanding of such conditions, hopefully resulting in a more understanding and less judgemental public.
    Many thanks

  2. You are so right.We are afraid of the mentally.I think it is an anxiety that comes from not knowing what to expect.I wish I did not feel that way.Good blog Maureen keeping us all educated.

    1. When we don’t know what to expect, oftentimes, we expect the worst and we’re afraid that we won’t know what to do. I think it’s that feeling of helplessness that is the hardest. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Maureen, I agree with your earlier respondent that one of the reasons we shun, ignore and fear the mentally ill or those whom we perceive as not being in charge of their lives is that we fear seeing that potential vulnerability in ourselves. As a culture that worships individualism any sign of human inter-dependence evokes fear and judgment.

    1. Your point about our culture being so individualistic that we any sign of the “other” within ourselves is well taken. Thanks for your comment, Hendrika.

  4. Folklore told us “Every village has an idiot”, and the culture taught us to reject that person. Maybe we are afraid that if we are seen with that person, we will be branded as one, so we fear rejection by society.

  5. Maureen, I think the questions you pose hit on the multiple reasons why we look away, avoid, marginalize, and fear the mentally ill or the individual who exhibits non-normative behavior such as ASD (austism spectrum disorder that neurologically affects communication and social interaction skill-development). I perceive that we (individually and collectively as a culture) fear seeing the other in ourselves, and hence subjectivize others who exhibit differences we neither understand nor wish to see through to the cause.

    As always, thank you for your thoughtful postings that consistently push against resistance. — J

    1. J, thank you for your very clear thoughts about how we subjectivize others and shun them. You’re right, we do fear seeing the other in ourselves.

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