Monday, February 6, 2023

Mental health not an excuse

By Bryn Fawn

Around this time last year, when Thanksgiving dinner had been eaten and seasonal carols escaped peoples’ lips, a massacre occurred. Darrell Brooks came barreling down toward a Christmas parade in an SUV Nov. 21, 2021, and murdered six in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Thousands watched as the trial was televised and Brooks represented himself in court following the belief of being a “sovereign citizen.” Brooks was found guilty on all 76 counts and was sentenced to 765-and-a-half years in prison.

This tragedy and its trial was already bizarre, but Brooks and his family grasped at straws to try and lessen the sentence. Brooks’ mother and grandmother both tried to blame his mental health for the crime. This defense was swiftly shut down by the judge.

Judge Jennifer Dorow stated at sentencing: “Do the mentally ill sometimes commit atrocious crimes? They do. This is not one of those situations. There are times good people do bad things, but there are times when evil people do bad things. There is no medication or treatment for a heart that is bent on evil.”

Some believe that when they commit a crime, they should then attempt to appear clinically insane to avoid punishment. However, that is not how the justice system works, nor is it that easy to obstruct justice. Those who are found innocent due to reason of insanity are sent to a mental institution, and those institutions are often run poorly. 

Abuse is commonplace, and some may say it is worse than a prison sentence. Even if the punishment would not result in a life in jail, innocence by insanity will confine the criminal for life in the institution. 

Nonetheless, using mental illness as an excuse merely spits in the face of those who truly are mentally ill and who truly struggle in day-to-day life. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults live with a mental illness. 

NAMI also states: “One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 24. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease.”

College students tend to suffer even more than the average American adult. “During the 2020-2021 school year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem,” according to the Healthy Minds Study which collected data from 373 American campuses. 

Mental illness can be debilitating. Depression can confine one to their bed and have their hygiene decay. Anxiety can cause one to tear their own hair out over one small quiz. Psychosis disorders alter the reality for the victim, which can only increase their stress and anxiety. Mental illness does not make someone harmful, in fact it mostly only harms the individual. 

Mental illness never goes away. It sticks. It lasts. It’s a lifetime commitment that one never signs up for, but is forced into the contract anyway. Each morning thousands wake up, and each morning thousands have to continue the battle against their own brain chemistry, against their own thoughts and against their own warped feelings. 

This does not even take into account mental disabilities such as Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder. Depression and anxiety can even qualify as disabilities if they are severe enough. 

Crimes are committed, that’s a fact of human nature. What is not human nature is the mentally ill are doomed to cause harm. The facts don’t correlate. The mentally ill are more likely to be victims than to create victims, especially with the social stigma surrounding healing and seeking help. Don’t be another statistic or flimsy defense to lessen a punishment. 

The Health and Counseling center, located behind Macomb and next to University Police, offers several resources for those suffering with mental illness. They have mental health counselors available, alongside crisis counselors and resources. You can contact them by calling 518-564-2187 or emailing healthcenter@plattsburgh.edu. The center is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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