That’s a problem. Building more jails isn’t going to solve it. Creating processes that help identify inmates with mental health issues but not the resources to immediately get them into treatment isn’t helping either. The numbers will just get higher. The only thing that will help is getting more resources to the people who need them. But we don’t. I believe the biggest reason we don’t is that we don’t see homeless people with mental health issues who run into legal problems as people who are worth the effort.
As Scarlett discusses, it’s easy to feel sympathy for the “good” people with mental health issues. That would be the folks who didn’t commit a crime, and who can act mostly in socially acceptable ways. The ones who have much messier situations often escape our empathy, especially if they happen to be homeless, or a member of an underrepresented group.
Mostly though, it’s just luck. Just as I’ve mentioned many times that I was privileged and lucky enough to be able to get help to learn how to deal with my trauma, I was also lucky enough to have only been homeless for a little while, and to have not had a violent or disruptive outburst that led to my being imprisoned or killed.
That luck doesn’t make me more worthy of empathy. It was just luck.
There is a direct link between the growing prison population and the lack of mental health resources. The only difference is that we can scare people into paying to build more prisons and keep “dangerous people” away from us. It’s much harder to convince people to invest in prevention through mental health treatment, even if that would be much more effective in protecting everyone.
Carter is writing about mental health in Canada, but I think this really applies everywhere. When we talk about Mental Health Awareness, there’s a lot of focus on people struggling with Anxiety and Depression to seek help, and let them know they aren’t alone. That’s important, but it’s just part of the story: