Mental Illness is a Disorder, Not a Decision

Mental Illness is a Disorder, Not a Decision

By Shatel M. Francis, Ph.D.

Crisis Mental Health Advocate, Safe Families Office

Clare Allan, an author and lecturer on mental health issues, stated that “humans are predisposed to believe what they see. Due to the fact that mental health concerns do not show up on brain scans or blood tests, we often ignore signs of psychological distress. What makes this phenomenon frightening is that “more than 50 percent of the United States population has experienced at least one major trauma resulting in physical and psychological distress.” (Briere & Scott, 2000). Thus, as a society we must find a way to end the stigma of mental health issues.

Individuals with serious mental health disorders often encounter discrimination in systems created to equally aid all people. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (2016), individuals with a mental illness are more likely to encounter law enforcement and court systems than they are to get medical help during a psychological crisis. Moreover, there are more individuals with mental illnesses in jails and prisons than in hospitals.

In domestic violence relationships, batterers may use a victim’s mental health diagnosis to convince law enforcement that victims are to be blamed for violence. Such misrepresentation results in victims being arrested and subsequently having criminal records. Additionally, having a mental health diagnosis makes it easier for abusers and systems to dehumanize domestic violence victims.  For these reasons, Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) sought new ways to bridge the gap between mental illness and the judicial system.

In 2017, PADV applied for and was awarded funding for a new position – Crisis Mental Health Advocate. Legal Advocates recognized that there were individuals who were afraid to pursue a temporary protective order due to exposure of their mental illness. For other victims, mental illness posed a barrier for their access to judicial resources. Batterers had found creative ways to plant the seed of fear in victims who once believed that law enforcement officers and the court system were available to help them. Some batters would even hide necessary medications to make victims seem unstable, thus untrustworthy, when law enforcement arrived. There were also many victims experiencing domestic violence for so long that psychological symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, rose to concerning levels after the initiation of their relationships.

PADV’s Crisis Mental Health Advocate, housed in the Fulton County Safe Families Office, creates a safe space for individuals who simultaneously have a mental health illness and may be afraid to seek judicial services. Additionally, she is tasked with counseling clients through crisis, facilitating psycho-educational meetings, acting as liaison with the court staff and providing help navigating the civil court system. With the help of our community partners, PADV provides appropriate intervention, support, referrals and linkages for assessed mental health and judicial needs.

Here at PADV we strongly encourage all those reading this post to remember the importance of mental health every day. Mental illness is a disorder, not a decision and victims addressing a mental health diagnosis deserve to be treated with the same respect and courtesy as all other victims.

For more information about PADV, and its services, please call our 24 hour hotline at 404.873.1766.