January 14, 2008 in Opinion

Mental wellness

The Spokesman-Review
 

Facts

“About 6 percent of the population – 1 in 17 people – suffer from a serious mental illness.

“Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States for people ages 15 to 44.

“Approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness.

“More than half of all prison and state inmates now report mental health problems.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health, National Coalition for the Homeless and U.S. Bureau of Justice

Parents of people with serious mental illness often must alter their dreams. They hope their children find the right medications and stay on them. They hope their children don’t become homeless or addicted to the street drugs that those with mental illness sometimes substitute for psychotropic drugs. They hope for a society that better understands mental illness.

In two Inland Northwest families, the hopes of parents ended in public tragedies. At 1 p.m. today at Spokane Valley Baptist Church, family and community members will honor former Spokane resident Mark Williams. He was a well-known musician and composer who moved to Bellingham partly to be closer to his 24-year-old son, Brian Williams. Brian, who suffers from schizophrenia, is accused of stabbing his father to death Jan. 3.

“My brother gave his life trying to help his son become well,” Mark’s brother, Grant Williams, told The Spokesman-Review.

And in a Spokane courtroom this week, Bryan Patrick Kim is being tried on aggravated first-degree murder charges. His parents, Richard and Terri Kim, were killed more than a year ago. Kim, 19, has a bipolar disorder.

Friends of both families knew the struggles these parents endured over the years. Loving and caring for children with serious mental illnesses is less burdensome than it was decades ago, when people afflicted with mental illness were hidden away, a source of shame. But misconceptions about mental illness remain, as do the stigmas attached to it.

These high-profile cases kindle the debate over violence and mental illness. Are men and women with mental illness more violent than people in the general population? Studies contradict one another, but the most recent conclusions say that men and women with serious mental illness have slightly more incidences of violence, but only if other factors are present, too. These can include alcohol and drug abuse, a history of childhood conduct problems and, most important, failure to take the medications that can quell their symptoms.

When someone dies, friends ask: “What can we do?” When parents die at the hand of their mentally ill children, it’s even harder to know the right thing to do. The greatest help is getting educated about mental illness. And then honoring the families, such as the Kims and the Williamses, who show by example how to care steadfastly for troubled children with the hope that ultimately, all will be well.


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