People With Mental Illness Are 16 Times More Likely To Be Killed By Police

Reminder: People with mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by a police officer, according to a new report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC). The study suggests it has become exceedingly difficult for the mentally ill to receive the treatment they need and the police are often the only available resource for people dealing with a mental health crisis.

"An estimated 7.9 million adults in the United States live with a severe mental illness that disorders their thinking," the study states. "Treatment in most cases can control psychiatric symptoms common to these diseases, but the system that once delivered psychiatric care for them has been systematically dismantled over the last half-century. Today, half the population with these diseases is not taking medication or receiving other care on any given day."

John Snook, the executive director of TAC, told The Guardian, “If you have these situations in communities where, when someone is really sick, the only call the family can make is to law enforcement; of course you’re going to see these sort of tragedies happen."

The TAC study reports that since 1950, the number of psychiatric beds available in the US has declined by about 90 percent and funding for the community health centers that were supposed to replace has also been drastically slashed. Police in the U.S. receive minimal training on how to properly deal people with mental illness and people with mental illness are frequently unable to get the care they need in prison.

“People don’t stop getting sick just because you don’t have hospital beds for them," Snook told The Guardian. "They have to go somewhere, so they go to the places that can’t say no.” Which is often jail -- if they make it that far. Previous research has revealed that 25% of all fatal police interactions involve a victim who is mentally ill.

The study also notes that while 10-20 percent of all law enforcement calls involve a mental health issue, this problem has been difficult to solve (and proposed solutions have been difficult to fund) because "reliable data about fatal law enforcement encounters in general do not exist, much less data about the role of mental illness in them," an unfortunate truth that recently led the FBI and Department of Justice to announce a new plan for tracking police violence.

This data serves as a poignant reminder that despite frequent claims from politicians, people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than they are to be perpetrators of violence.. The majority of people who commit violent crimes are not mentally ill and most people who are mentally ill are not violent. (It's also worth noting that gun violence data is another thing the U.S. government is notoriously bad at tracking.)

The TAC study's authors are hopeful that better data collection could lead to better care for those with mental illness and they recommend that lawmakers think about all the money taxpayers could save if preventative care measures for people with mental illness were well-funded enough to reduce police interactions -- which are too often deadly -- and prison sentences for the mentally ill.

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