Criticism of mentally ill people misinformed

The Minnesota Daily’s March 14 edition contained a letter by Ben Henrich (“Jeilani killing not a racial issue”). I agree with some of what the sociology major said about the use, under severe circumstances, of certain technologies available to law enforcement agents. However, his broad and misinformed comments regarding people with mental illnesses portrays the writer as naive and dangerous in his own right.

Pointedly, he stated the following: “Mentally ill people are dangerous and unpredictable,” and “(p)eople not in their right frame of mind are extremely dangerous Ö (t)his includes sufferers of mental illness.”

As someone who was diagnosed with a mental illness called bipolar affective disorder during my studies at University, I witnessed the result of similar thoughts that Henrich espoused in his letter to The Minnesota Daily. Those actions included death threats, obscene mail, assault and other annoying and side-tracking actions taken by students and administrators whom I sought out for assistance to put an end to my mistreatment.

The dangerous parties in my case were people who reacted in a negative way to me when they found out about my health concern or witnessed behavioral symptoms such as compulsive, anxious and depressed behaviors and turned a blind eye to my predicament. Lack of understanding and compassion were significant factors in the disinterest toward helping someone obviously concerned about his own well-being and behavior.

Mental illnesses can be diagnosed and effectively treated by competent health care providers. Tricks to overcoming these problems include compliance with medication orders of one’s psychiatrist and introspection leading to recovery. Stigma, such as the variety found in Henrich’s statements, can delay trips to a psychiatrist due to fear that the patient will not be accepted by others who might learn of the diagnosis.

In the case of the Somali man, it is unlikely that he and, quite likely, many other immigrants are aware of the benefits of psychiatric and psychological counseling. In this regard, immigrants are no different than most people socialized in the United States since birth.

Psychiatric counseling is relatively simple and involves the use of diagnostic tools such as blood tests and medication; psychological counseling involves psychological testing, talk therapy and honest introspection of one’s behavior and future plans. Here, the emphasis is on helping patients recognize better ways to address concerns in their life and then to discipline themselves with the newfound information. Healthy and enlightened people support these actions.

Mr. Henrich’s comments regarding mental illnesses should be taken with a grain of salt. He is woefully ill informed. Further, I am surprised that after a year of employment in association with law enforcement at University – and his studies as a sociology student – he would make such broad and sweeping statements about people with mental illnesses.

I will add by saying that the United Kingdom’s past Prime Minister Winston Churchill and media mogul Ted Turner have both struggled with mental illness and have done quite well for themselves and the people they serve(d). Moreover, former first lady Rosalyn Carter and former Vice President Al Gore’s wife Tipper have dedicated themselves to bring greater understanding of mental illnesses and the people primarily affected by them.

Hopefully, Mr. Henrich will reach a point in his personal and professional life that will lead him out of such darkness and naivete and toward compassion, wisdom and common sense. By and large, mentally ill people are not more likely than “healthy” people to commit violent crimes.

Barry N. Petersonx graduated from the University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in history. Send
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