This month, the nation remembers the acts of terror that ended close to 3,000 lives and forever changed countless others a decade ago on September 11.
As we remember those losses, we at the Treatment Advocacy Center also are reminded of the estimated 3.3 million Americans who live daily with another kind of terror – the symptoms of untreated mental illness. The terrors of untreated diseases like schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder are many and varied: being victimized on the streets, confined and restrained in prison cells, abandoned in hospital ERs, shot in confrontations with police, driven to suicide.
In rare but highly publicized cases, the terror extends to strangers or bystanders when non-treatment results in violent acts. Just since Labor Day, mental illness has been implicated in the shooting of 11 in Carson City, Nevada, four of them left dead; in the massacre of a family of five in West Virginia, one of them a pregnant woman; in a still-undetermined number of killings near Ft. Bragg, California, where a massive manhunt for a suspect with untreated schizophrenia is still underway. Researchers estimate that 1,600 homicides a year in this country result from untreated mental illness - 16,000 deaths since 9/11 not counting the lives of those who were ill and died from suicide or at the hands of others.
As we mourn the lives lost or forever changed by the outside terror of 9/11, let us also remember the lives lost or forever changed by the inside terror of untreated mental illness. As our nation committed to preventing losses like those of September 11, let us remember that treatment works, recognize that untreated mental illness kills, and commit to stemming those preventable tragedies as well.