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“My brother is not a threat. He has schizophrenia.”

Read about one NAMI volunteer’s experience with the intersection of mental illness, homelessness, and law enforcement through the lens of her brother, who lives with schizophrenia. Here is an excerpt from the full essay on the NAMI blog.

“His appearance and unusual mannerisms made him a cop magnet. I was often interrupted from work or my studies in order to retrieve him from law enforcement. Although his appearance, homelessness and abnormal behavior was a direct result of his untreated mental illness, law enforcement often justified their involvement because of reports made by public bystanders. The police then translated his behavior to the assumption that he must be under the influence of a controlled substance rather than experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia. This led to his arrest several times…

It was very common for people to call the police when they saw my brother, whether it was because of some vague, subjective ‘suspicious behavior’ or for simply being a person experiencing homelessness. He started to develop a record with law enforcement. This along with his appearance and inability to comprehend the situation sometimes, some police officers moved very quickly to arrest him under the belief he was under the influence of a controlled substance, which he was not…

It is vital that we as a society refrain from assumptions that negatively impact communities, such as the misconception that people with mental illnesses are violent. Doing so significantly contributes to shame and stigma, adding another reason why some people avoid treatment. It also makes it harder for these individuals to find work after they recover from their conditions.”

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