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  • Writer's pictureCatherine J Rippee-Hanson

Changing California's View of Severe Mental Illness (Mental Health and Illness Awareness Month)

Updated: May 7, 2023

by Catherine J Rippee-Hanson

Our society often ignores or misunderstands severe mental illness. Stigma, discrimination, and isolation can worsen mental illnesses and keep people from getting help. What can we do to make society more compassionate and supportive of seriously mentally ill people? Raising awareness and educating people about serious mental illnesses is the first step. We need to hear from families and caregivers of people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and major depressive disorder. It's essential to create a society where these illnesses aren't stigmatized, and people aren't discriminated against.

Many people lack basic knowledge about psychiatric disorders. They tend to rely on stereotypes or myths that portray people with mental illnesses as dangerous, weak, or flawed and deserving of indifference. These negative attitudes can lead to fear, rejection, and prejudice, harming mental illness patients' self-esteem and dignity. By providing accurate and factual information about mental health and mental illness, we can challenge these misconceptions. We can let people know that mental illnesses are real and, if not curable, treatable. If left untreated, the most severe cases result in the highest mortality rates. The mortality rate for mental illness is estimated to be 14.3% of deaths worldwide, or approximately 8 million deaths each year. I lost my brother, James Mark Rippee to schizophrenia and anosognosia last year. Our family tried for more than 3 decades to get him help or have him deemed gravely disabled or conserved by LPS conservatorship to no avail. He was uniquely disabled and vulnerable before developing schizophrenia due to an accident in 1987 that resulted in the loss of both eyes. Awareness of severe mental illness is important not only to reduce mortality rates, but also to help prevent and treat those who are suffering. Through awareness, advocacy, and access to treatment, we can reduce these deaths. Let's make sure no one has to experience the same loss as my family and so many others.

Another critical step is to promote empathy and respect for people with mental illnesses. Instead of judging or blaming them for their condition, we should try to understand their perspective and experience. We should not forget to recognize that they are human beings with feelings, hopes, and dreams. By showing compassion and kindness to people with serious mental illnesses or no-fault brain illness, we can reduce their isolation and shame. We can also encourage them to seek help and cope with their challenges. By providing a listening ear and showing empathy, we can help people with mental illness move forward, one step at a time.

A third step is to advocate for better policies and services for people with serious mental illnesses or brain disorders. Many people with SMI/SBD face barriers to accessing quality care, such as lack of availability, affordability, or accessibility of mental health services. They may also face discrimination in employment, education, housing, or other areas of life that affect their opportunities and rights. By raising our voices and demanding change from governments, institutions, and organizations, we can improve the conditions and outcomes for people with serious mental illnesses.

Changing society's view of the seriously mentally ill is not easy, but it is crucial. By increasing awareness, promoting empathy, and advocating for change, we can create a more supportive and inclusive society for people with serious mental illness. We're supposed to protect the most vulnerable, right? Mental illness isn't a weakness or taboo; nor is it a character flaw; it's part of human nature. We need to recognize that serious mental illnesses are real, biological brain conditions with a genetic component. As such, it should be treated in the same way as other life-saving treatment for all other illnesses, right? We need to take steps to ensure that those with severe mental illness or any no-fault brain illness have real world resources and avenues to receive treatment, care, and housing.

There's a crisis of serious mental illness and homelessness in America that's about to explode if we don't take the necessary steps. The status quo is a nightmare for those afflicted, their families, and society. The time is now to make sure people with serious mental illnesses get the treatment they need. Otherwise, we face a crisis that could spiral out of control. To put it simply, if we do not act now, we risk creating a situation that harms everyone involved. It is our moral obligation to ensure that those suffering from serious mental illness receive the care they need and deserve. We cannot afford to wait any longer--we must take action now to ensure those with serious mental illness receive the treatment they need and deserve. Every day we delay, the situation becomes more dire and the consequences more severe. The safety of both these individuals and society depends on getting them the treatment and care they need.

A flickering light can be seen in the distance in California leading #FamiliesLikeMine out of a long, dark and lonely tunnel. It's a symbol of hope that if we act now, we can prevent a worsening crisis and help many people who otherwise would not have a future. That light is held by Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman of California. With her multifaceted plan, she's not just fixing massive cracks in our mental health system but improving access to treatment for those suffering. She co-authored the CARE Act with Governor Newsom last year. Currently, her bill SB 43 expands the grave disability standard to include psychiatric or physical impairments and anosognosia or lack of insight. She's tackling the shortage of hospital beds. She is a beacon of hope for those needing better access to treatment, housing and a continuum of care. In addition, she is a beacon for their families. Together, we can make a real difference. Her work is like a lantern, guiding change for families like mine. She lights the path for those who need common sense change now. It's up to us to follow her and ensure her plans don't get lost in the dark.

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