BJ Casey — Mental Health Stigma

LC: John Oliver called mental illness “The thing actors pretend to have to win Oscars.” In that episode he describes the offensive terminology that is often used and the stigma around it. What do you think is the right way to tackle these issues?

BJC: Society has to change! Every time somebody gets shot, to say it’s mental illness gives mental illness a bad rap. Or they’ll say the person is psychotic… Psychotic people are actually more dangerous to themselves than they are to us most of the time. So that in and of itself is putting a huge stigma on mental illness.

Each one of us has our own mental issues. The point at which it becomes a diagnosis is when it completely interferes with our quality of life. That’s when people start to show up at the clinic to get help. Why we treat mental illness any differently from how we treat cancer or anything else is beyond me, because they’re all interconnected. So right now I’m working with the National Academy of Science on a workshop where we talk about what the healthy brain is, trying to get away from the myths of separating psychological and biological heath or even psychological, social and biological health. It all has an impact.

I think one of his really good points was that people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators.

Sixty percent of the juveniles that are incarcerated have mental health problems. They’re not getting what they need in correctional institutions.  You know at Rikers Island in NY, too often people with mental illness are put in solitary confinement, and that’s the last thing that you do to somebody that has a mental health problem. 

One of the other big things he talked about is where the mentally ill end up. He said something like 125,000 mentally ill youth end up in elderly care facilities, which is just an absurd place to put them, and many others end up in prison or on a bus out of town or completely ignored on the streets.

It’s terrible. My partner works in the ER, he’s a geneticist but he is also is an attending in the psychiatric ER, and when people see what they consider a crazy person, they call the police. The police have not been trained to deal with these individuals. Then they bring them into the ER and end up agitating them without even knowing it. The psychiatrists and others there work to calm them down, but the police without sufficient training can stir them up again. So unfortunately, too often people with mental illness are thought of as nuisances and threat as opposed to people who really need help.

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