To the editor,
Recently, Oklahoma State University began offering free mental health training to first responders. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, mentally ill people who go without treatment are sixteen times more likely to be killed by police because first responders are ignorant of how to handle a mental health crisis. Oklahoma State is clearly responding to a need within the community, but it is not only Oklahoma that has a mental health issue.
Across the United States, those with mental health problems are subject to police violence, denied treatment, or even denied the right to label themselves mentally ill because of their addictions or the nature of their illness. Mentally ill or autistic people exhibit behaviors that are abnormal, and perceived as dangerous despite being innocuous most of the time.
The stigma against mental illness that contributes to police violence also affects the treatment that mentally ill people are afforded. Because mental illness is either portrayed as a character flaw, or worse, something dangerous as in movies like “Split” and “Bird Box,” among others, it is not given the same treatment as a “physical” illness, despite the brain also being an organ. Many people go without diagnosis because of the stigma, or go without treatment due to a combination of stigma and lack of affordable health insurance.
I personally have issues with my mental health which began in high school and follow me to this day. I did not have the opportunity to receive mental health care until I began attending college. When I did have the opportunity to seek care, I didn’t do it. I told myself I didn’t really need it because I’d gone so long without it to begin with, or that maybe I’d be institutionalized if I were completely honest. Everyone has bad days, after all, maybe I was too sensitive. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure I would be believed about my symptoms, or they wouldn’t be understood because they never had been when I went to my family or guidance counselor for support.
There is a history of misdiagnosis and mistreatment of women in the medical field, often having to do with ignorance of women’s pain or reproductive issues. Psychology is not exempt from this either, and it is not an issue limited to women. There are countless examples of trans and gender nonconforming people, gay people, and people of color being discriminated against in the psychological field.
Marginalized people’s pain has been ignored for too long in the psychological field, and in fact, psychological issues are part of why people are marginalized. There is a mental health crisis in the United States, and there has been for a long time. Affordable healthcare and public awareness that combats the stigma associated with mental illness are imperative.