A response to the recent letter from Mr. Sams (“Facility should move from downtown,” Dec.13) provides opportunity to highlight and address the stigma and misunderstanding surrounding mental illness. My guess is the message of Mr. Sams came from a lack of understanding and fear about individuals who experience mental illness so I hope to shed some light on this.
Research tells us that 1 in 5 individuals will experience mental illness and 1 in 25 experience serious mental illness. The Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) Act allowed for the creation of CMHC’s (i.e. Heritage Behavioral Health) to provide services in central locations to meet the needs for those in our communities and Heritage provides this.
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Having Heritage in our downtown allows individuals living with mental illness access not only to their services, but other services in the area. Mr. Sams stated that “we believe everyone deserves to walk the streets of downtown Decatur without feeling threatened” and I would agree. The individuals Heritage serves are a part of that “everyone.” Individuals who live with mental illness are at an increased risk for being victims, not perpetrators, of violence and all deserve to be safe.
Our community and nation are ill-equipped to provide the level of services many individuals need due to funding cuts leaving CMHCs like Heritage to provide the best array of services they can with available funding. Mental illness impacts everyone. The gentleman mentioned in Mr. Sams letter is someone’s relative, friend, acquaintance, and our fellow citizen.
Although behaviors that at times are a result of mental illness can be disruptive, difficult and uncomfortable to witness, it is our responsibility to meet the individual where they are and provide the most beneficial services while being supportive and empathetic.
Mary Garrison, Decatur