Mental Health Author on Violence
The mental health industry fails the mentally ill, feels DJ Jaffe
Picture courtesy: DJ Jaffe, DJ Jaffe is executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., a nonpartisan think tank that creates detailed policy analysis for legislators, media, and advocates.
The mental health industry fails the mentally ill, feels DJ Jaffe
Opinion Policies Mar 23, 2018

With the facilitation of correct and timely treatment as well as the support and care of loved ones, most people afflicted with a mental illness are able to overcome the associated challenges and attain a healthy recovery. Those who are not fortunate enough to succeed in giving a fresh start to their life live with the belief that yesterday belonged to them. Their sufferings leave them with scars that are difficult to heal.

Often, such people are unable to seek or attain recovery because of multiple reasons, including societal pressure, the stigma surrounding the subject of mental health, less or no support from immediate family members and no availability of treatment facilities in their vicinity. While living with a mental illness is bound to be challenging and tough for anyone, the truth is that no professional aid or family support can break the afflicted person beyond repair. From developing tendencies that overlook others’ needs to exhibiting violent and reckless behaviors and having no fear of the law, such people lose their ability to rationalize thoughts and actions.

In a recent post on The Washington Post, Mental Illness Policy Org’s executive director DJ Jaffe emphasized on the link between serious mental illness and violence. Jaffe who has authored the book “Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill,” has been advocating for the seriously mentally ill since the mid-1980s and is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute currently. In the book, he has penned down his well-researched and critical examination of the state of American mental health system and his thoughts on the importance of replacing mission creep with mission control.

Issue is not mental health alone

Jaffe believes that it is not only the presence of mental health issues, but also the way things surrounding the afflicted person operate, which lead to changing behaviors and mindsets. Quoting the recent shooting rampage at a Parkland high school, Jaffe reiterated that the 19-year-old accused Nikolas Cruz had been exhibiting signs of violent behavior for months. Yet, everyone around him, including his family, neighbors, local law enforcement agency and mental health professionals took no serious action about it.

The result? 17 innocent people lost their lives and a hundred others who survived the massacre continue to live with the trauma even today, with the hope of things getting better one day. The saddest thing about this mass shooting is that it happened even when there were dozens of 911 calls, at least two separate tips to the FBI and other warning signs stretching back over a decade; each signaling that Cruz needed professional help for his aggressive behavior and tendencies. By the time it was realized, it was already too late.

“As the family member of someone with serious mental illness, and as someone who has spent 30 years helping other families with seriously ill members, the answer is clear: The system often prevents relatives from getting help for loved ones who have serious mental illness until after they have become a danger to themselves or others. Too often this means after someone — often a family member — is injured or killed,” Jaffe elaborated.

Kin, friends immediate victims of violence

Mentioning a 2016 report by the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, Jaffe further wrote, “My co-authors and I found that serious mental illness — typically untreated — is associated with an estimated 29 percent of family homicides and 7 percent of all homicides. In 2013, these fatalities outstripped the number of deaths related to meningitis, kidney infection or Hodgkin’s disease.”

He believes that being the caretaker for the seriously mentally ill, the family members and friends are often the most immediate victims of violence; the sad part being the fact that they experience abuse and aggression, but mostly keep it under wraps or let it go unnoticed. Then suddenly, a news involving their afflicted loved one hits them hard. But then it is too late for them to think or act.

Jaffe feels that the federal government has failed to make a mark in serving the seriously mentally ill. Spending nearly $150 billion every year to improve “wellness” through yoga or “mindfulness” training has little to do with offering treatment to those in need, he said.

Future of mental health crisis

As per Jaffe, lives of millions of sufferers continue to be at stake in the wake of rules that forbid states from using Medicaid funds even for seriously mentally ill patients, no or little intervention of families and lax gun laws. An important point of acknowledgment in the write-up was the importance of making the gun laws stringent. He added that the involvement of bodies like the Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness program (PAIMI) and the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) division of the Justice Department could be helpful. He feels that these measures can greatly help the families in facilitating appropriate care to their mentally ill loved ones.

A lot more needs to be done to be able to reach the stage of better laws and provisions. Without the combined efforts of the people, federal and state governments and the regulatory bodies, becoming a nation that offers universal health care and supports the mental health needs of every individual would remain a far-fetched dream. In journeys like that, influencers and experts like Jaffe have had and will continue to play a crucial role.


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