The Right Treatment Can Better Your Mental Health

Efforts to Decriminalize Mental Illness

In this video, we hear from someone who suffers from several different mental illnesses. Instead of ending up where most people with a mental health disorder do, Rachel Leggett found a program that helped her live independently as well as give her the right treatment and right medication. Sadly, most people end up in prison and we hear how unfair it is for them because they never get treatment.

 Produced and Edited by Melanie Hart

Efforts to Decriminalize Mental Illness

By Melanie Hart

With ample access to quality mental health treatment, including medications, people with mental health conditions can be helped in the community before any incidents arise that would put them on a path into the criminal justice system. Without this treatment, these same people can arrive in the system and may not have access to the medications they need.

Research shows that 1.2 million people sit in jail and/or prison each year with a mental health disorder. This is because when there is a mental health crisis, the police are more involved than medical help. According to NAMI,  15 percent of males and 30 percent of females in jail suffer a serious mental health condition, while 83 percent of inmates who have a mental illness do not have access to their needed treatment. Because of that, they never get better.

Even if a person with a mental illness gets out of jail, they have that criminal record for the rest of their lives and it makes it harder for them to get a job or housing. When this happens, they still may not get the right treatment, which can result in them ending up homeless. Many times, because of this, they go back to jail.

For those who have found a community to help them with their mental health, it teaches them how to live their lives and not end up in jail. It helps them learn how to cope with the mental illness they have, even if they are diagnosed with multiple disorders. 

“I was 17 when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Rachel Leggett, a 24-year-old woman who lives with multiple mental illnesses. Leggett has also been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and mood disorder.  

Because of her many mental illnesses, Leggett would isolate herself in her room and not want to talk or see anyone. “I would feel these crazy feelings and act on them when I shouldn’t have,” she said. 

Once Leggett’s family noticed her behavior, they started looking into different programs to help her with her mental health. These programs taught Leggett how to live on her own, which included how to cook, clean, and take care of herself.  Ultimately, Leggett has been able to move out of her home and live in apartment housing for people with mental illnesses. “If it wasn’t for the Act Team, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Leggett. She has been living independently in an apartment for almost a year now.

“Rachel transitioned pretty well into the Act Team and into moving out and living on her own,” said Joanne Leggett, Rachel’s mom. She checks in with Rachel, making sure she is always taking her medication and giving her support. “It was sad at first because we didn’t think she would be able to live a regular life,” said J. Leggett.

Still, not every person is as fortunate as Leggett.  Many people fail to get the appropriate treatment and life skills training to function successfully with their mental illness. Consequently, they act on their impulses and find themselves behind bars. 

Studies indicate that inmates do not receive appropriate mental health care, and once inmates are released from prison, they often do not have the money or the care to continue with their treatment and medication. This is another reason why they are unable to care for themselves and sometimes get placed back into prison. 

“Maybe they’ve already gone to jail. What is that going to do, putting them back in there? Is that gonna fix it?” asked Kasey Seltner, a certified counselor who has worked with people with mental health disorders. Another reason why they do not care if they go back into prison is that they are used to living there and used to having a routine. 

The treatments are limited in prisons because of the great number of disciplinary problems, physical assaults, and rule violations that affect a person who has never been properly treated for their mental illness. 

“I do think that we need to remember that if a person does have a history of mental illness, putting them into a prison system where there are a lack of resources to help them, it’s only damaging them,” Seltner said.

There have been court cases following inmate releases who were treated negatively in prison that suffer from a mental illness. Some of those court cases were in favor of the person living with mental illness. Other times, the federal judge will say that there are not enough funds to put more mental health staff into prisons to provide the right care.

If prisons had good treatment and medication plans for inmates with mental illness,  they could reduce the number of physical assaults between inmates and have fewer disciplinary problems. 

For this to happen licensed counselors trained to treat clients with mental illness would need to work in prisons more often. People with more severe disorders need to meet at least every day and also be put on the right medication to suspend any physical problems.

A judge from Miami, Judge Steven Leifman, has been working to initiate a change in the number of inmates with a mental illness. “If we treated people in primary health the way we treat people with mental illness, not only would there be a plethora of civil lawsuits, there would probably be indictments for gross negligence,” said Leifman. 

There have been three solutions that Leifman came up with. One is a Pre-arrest System for police officers that requires them to complete a 40-hour training to be able to identify people with mental illnesses and know how to get them to a treatment facility instead of arresting them and sending them to prison. 

The other solution is a Post-arrest Diversion Program. That is when someone gets released from jail but instead of going back to live on the streets, they go to a crisis stabilization unit for up to two weeks. This helps them be on the right type of medication and figure out what they will do once they have completed their two weeks at the unit. 

The last solution Leifman created was the Competency Restoration Alternative Program. In this program, if a person is arrested under certain felonies, the people will stay in a facility and undergo treatment instead of putting them in a cell before their court date. Once they are stable, they attend their court date, and if they are released, then they get supervised for a year to make sure they are getting the treatment and medication they need.

Prison as Wrongful Punishment for Mental Illness

Mental Health in the criminal justice system can be very overlooked. In this audio, Kasey Seltner, a certified counselor who has worked with people with mental illnesses who have been or gone to prison, speaks out about how unfair it is for these people to be treated the way they are. They do not get the right treatment and are not on the right medication.

Produced and Edited by Melanie Hart 

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