Mental Health Issues Are Community Issues

Mental Health Issues Are Community Issues

I’ve written briefly on the importance I place on assisting people in our community who deal with mental health difficulties (specifically depression and/or anxiety), and thought that my blog might be a good place to expand those thoughts. Because it is personal to me.

For the past several years, I have volunteered with Pennsylvania Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, an organization that reaches out to attorneys who are having difficulties with either mental health issues or addictions. Through that anonymous group, I have had the opportunity to speak to many lawyers who are battling depression and/or anxiety.

Those experiences have clearly demonstrated how important it can be for someone dealing with those issues to know that someone cares—even if it’s someone from the other side of the state whom that person has never met. It also drives home that mental health issues are not limited to people from specific classes or backgrounds, and that many people are able to hide their difficulties from those around them.

Sometimes it is easy to choose to ignore people who we think might be having difficulties, because we think it doesn’t affect us. However, all too often we see stories on the news about instances of mass violence that are perpetrated by people who exhibited warning signs or have a history of mental health issues.

Even if the afflicted person chooses to take their own life only, it is still a painful tragedy for that person, along with their friends, family and others who wish they had seen warning signs or offered help.

While, fortunately, most people who deal with depression never get to that point, it does not lesson our need as friends and neighbors to make sure that those around us know that we are there to listen and to help. What to us might seem like a small, insignificant gesture might actually make a huge difference to someone suffering from depression or anxiety.

As it relates to our legal system, we have to be aware that many of the people who come to court are suffering from these issues. Our county’s drug problem gets a great deal of attention, and rightly so. From my experience, it is clear that many of the people who fight drug addiction also have underlying mental health issues that need to be addressed.

Should people with mental health difficulties be punished squarely when they commit crimes?  ABSOLUTELY. The impact a crime has on a victim is not lessened merely because the perpetrator suffered from mental health issues. Also, our courts have a duty to protect our community from people who pose a threat to it.

Rather, I think it’s critical that in addition to administering punishment, we must also determine if mental health assistance is necessary to both prevent future criminal activity, and to increase the chances that the person will be able to become a contributing member of society.

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