I applaud Petula Dvorak’s call to action [“Ignoring mental illness won’t make it go away,” Metro, Jan. 21] on the urgent need to more openly and fully discuss mental health issues. However, her column’s emphasis on violence among people with mental illness should not give readers the impression that this is an inevitable consequence of mental illness. On the contrary, it’s rare.
The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and only 4 percent of violent crimes in the United States are related to mental illness. People with mental disorders are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit one. A far more common tragedy is suicide: Some 38,000 Americans die by suicide each year, and that number has been increasing. More than 90 percent of the people who commit suicide had been diagnosed with a mental illness.
The violent acts committed by the mentally ill are the tip of the iceberg of inadequate mental health services and facilities. So, too, is the homeless population, 40 percent of which is mentally ill, and the 30 percent of prison inmates with mental illness. Ms. Dvorak is right that we must overcome the fears and stigma to talk openly about mental illness, but, more important, we must do something about our failed mental health policy.
Jeffrey Lieberman, New York
The writer is president of the American Psychiatric Association.