The numbers are staggering.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one in five adults—essentially 40 million Americans—are living with mental illness, including severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, severe depression and bipolar disorder, of which I, too, am a sufferer. But when it comes to me, someone who enjoys a great career with the support of family and friends, I’m one of the lucky ones. Too many people with severe mental illness aren’t getting the help they need to get to where I eventually arrived.
Instead, they’re going to prison.
A 2012 study [PDF] of our nation’s incarcerated found 37 percent of people in state and federal prisons and 44 percent of people in local jails have some history of mental illness. The film Bedlam, directed by psychiatrist and author Dr. Kenneth Paul Rosenberg, tackles this very serious issue and debuts on PBS’ Independent Lens this Monday night.
On Monday afternoon before it aired, I had the privilege of chatting with Dr. Rosenberg alongside Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., and artist and activist Patrisse Cullors, a participant in the documentary and the founder and chair of Reform LA Jails. She is also the co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
In this Facebook Live discussion moderated by myself and produced by PBS’ Independent Lens (where The Root was a media sponsor), I chat with these aforementioned “mental health change-makers” about one of our nation’s greatest sins—our lack of a social safety net and how its absence devastates those who struggle with mental illness.