Society often stigmatizes mental illness as a crime rather than an illness. In Tallahassee experts say new solutions are needed, including more access to care and community involvement.
Miami Judge Steve Leifman works on reforming how people affected by mental illness are treated in the criminal justice system. That has been a topic of concern in Florida, and he said an emphasis on treatment is key.
“And the other thing I don’t think people understand is that people with mental illnesses have recovery rates that are better than people with diabetes and heart disease,” he said. “It’s just a matter of developing a system of care that we can identify people early and get them treated early and let them live happy, healthy, and productive lives.”
Meanwhile, support for understanding of mental illness in Tallahassee is growing as well. Miaisha Mitchell is a local health educator. She said another problem in the community is little access to treatment. She said solving that will require a community effort. Mitchell helped organize a Florida A and M University conference that sought to connect the community and reduce the stigma on mental illness and substance abuse.
“Well I think a good 100 people were there. I mean it was a number that was great in engagement from the community, from service providers, from people who were interested in making policy changes, and also from students,” Mitchell said. “The people who themselves were impacted, several people who themselves who had had issues with mental health who had various concerns that they wanted to hear and talk extensively with some of the panelists.”
Both guests agree that support from the community and awareness of mental illness will help to reduce the stigma society places on it. Mitchell is optimistic about the future. She encourages others to get involved to help individuals and families who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse. Leifman and Mitchell made their comments on WFSU’s Public Affairs show, Perspectives.