Support for mentally ill

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | March 12, 2014

Funding, prayers are needed

Mental illness is a topic we often avoid discussing. Many people who suffer from mental illness are often stigmatized and shunned. Last month, the Catholic bishops of New York State issued a statement calling on Catholics and others to develop “attitudes of acceptance and compassion” and to welcome “with openness and affection” individuals who are afflicted with mental illness.

“The suffering endured by mentally ill persons is a most difficult cross to bear, as is the sense of powerlessness felt by their families and loved ones,” said the New York bishops in their statement, titled “For I Am Lonely and Afflicted: Toward a Just Response to the Needs of Mentally Ill Persons.”

The title of their statement is from Psalm 25:16: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart; and free me from my anguish.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org), one in four adults — some 61.5 million Americans — experiences some form of mental illness in a given year. One in 17 (about 13.6 million Americans) live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. In addition, about 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders every year.

A growing concern is mental illness among veterans. According to the Military Mental Health Project, 22 veterans die from suicide every day and nearly 25 percent of U.S. veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another mental health issue. Many of these veterans go undiagnosed or untreated.

These numbers prove one thing: nearly every family is touched by mental illness. As the bishops of New York point out, mental illness does not discriminate. “For every mentally ill individual there is a family — parents, spouses, children, grandparents — who is impacted as well,” the bishops state.

They point to Jesus as an example of how to reach out to people with mental illness. “Always, we saw him engage these individuals in the same way he would engage anyone else, with tenderness,” they said. “We are called to do no less.”

It is important for us not to fear or stereotype people with mental illness, the bishops explain. Doing so causes us to “see mentally ill people as something other than children of God, made in his image and likeness, deserving our love and respect.”

The bishops acknowledge that violence is one outcome of mental illness. However, the American Psychiatric Association reports that only 4 percent of violent crimes in the United States are committed by people with mental illness. The mentally ill are far more likely to commit suicide, at a rate of 38,000 annually.

Funding for treatment of mental illness is critical. That is why many groups support the Excellence in Mental Health Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.). The bipartisan bill, according to the Military Mental Health Project, would “expand access to treatment and improve the quality of care at America’s mental health centers.”

The legislation would provide enhanced Medicaid funding to these centers if they provide high quality, comprehensive care to those afflicted by mental illness. The legislation would help as many as 750,000 uninsured and low-income Americans, including 100,000 veterans, according to the National Council for Behavior Health.

Right now, the Medicaid funding is a sticking point for passage of the legislation.

During this season of Lent, why not add the mentally ill to your prayer list? Pray that Congress does the right thing by passing the Excellence in Mental Health Act. In the words of New York’s Catholic bishops, “It is our fervent prayer that … we can come to live in a society where those who suffer from mental illness can get the help they so desperately need.”

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