February 21, 2008
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers its sympathy to the families and friends of the victims of the tragedy at Northern Illinois University (NIU)—which serves a reminder of the Virginia Tech tragedy not even one year ago. Our concern extends to all students affected by those tragedies, including those who live with mental illness as part of the community.
NAMI is an organization of individuals and families who themselves have been affected deeply by mental illness. We know that the likelihood of violence by people with mental illness is low. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has reported that "The overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small." Acts of violence are exceptional.
They are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.
As with Virginia Tech, we owe it to all the individuals and families affected by the NIU tragedy to find out what went wrong. We need to find out everything that contributed to the tragedy---and to act on lessons learned. It is relevant to note that in NAMI’s Grading the States report in 2006, the mental healthcare system in Virginia received a grade of D. Illinois received an F. In both states, there has been an urgent need for reform.
One in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans— experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. About one in 10 children have a serious mental or emotional disorder.
Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three quarters by age 24, making college students a population of high onset risk.
Yet nearly 50% of all people with a serious mental illness do not get the treatment they need
These facts are a call to action.
NAMI urges formation and expansion of campus services and supports for students with mental illness, including:
NAMI also calls on colleges and universities to work through education and their policies to eliminate stigma or discrimination against individuals with mental illness. Treatment works. Students today are able to thrive in college communities as part of a process of recovery. No one should ever be discriminated against because they ask for help when they need it—and receive effective treatment and support.
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