Mental health used to be “the hidden disease,” something to be ashamed of and not talked about. Persons were locked away in “insane asylums” and hospitals.
In the 1950’s, a well-meaning movement to take people out of sometimes horrible conditions and put them back in the community took root. Alas, the program was a failure because we never invested in the resources to take care of them in the community. As a result, many ended up homeless or in jails and prisons. Because they had little voice, budgets that supported their care were cut.
Today, there is hope on the horizon. We now understand that mental illness is a disease like any other. We understand that diagnosis and treatment can help many recover or manage their illness and lead to meaningful lives.
There are many reasons. Several advocacy groups, like National Alliance on Mental Illness, are speaking up and advocating. Ohio has one of the strongest NAMI chapters and have partnered with many groups. Many famous people, like actors, actresses, and elected officials, are now sharing their personal stories. The Governor of Ohio has been a strong advocate and leader.
In Ohio, I have worked for over 15 years on this issue and have seen great changes. When I started, there were 6 mental health courts, 2 in Ohio, where the court tries to deal with the issues that landed someone in court, and break the cycle of recidivism and homelessness. Now there are 38 in Ohio, hundreds nationally. Each one involves the community in treatment.
A program called Crisis Intervention Teams trains police on how to respond appropriately to calls for persons with suspected mental illness. When I started working on this, there were 100 Ohio officers trained. We just passed 9000 trained officers. I am now Project Director of Ohio’s chapter of a national program called Stepping Up that works with jails in identifying and treating persons with mental illness. These are but a few of the many programs in Ohio on this issue.
We now recognize that people with mental illness need support, care and treatment, not jail or prison. We need to provide resources for families and children so that they can keep their loved ones safe, and we must all openly talk about it as a disease that deserves treatment like any other, and advocate for funding and programs to do so. If you have an illness or a family member with one, speak up and share your story so others can understand. Only then can we remove the stigma.
Evelyn Lundberg Stratton
Project Director, Stepping Up
Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Ohio