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Unarmed, underage, black, elderly— put any of those words in a sentence with “shot by the police” and there is likely to be some manner of outrage. What surprises me most about the Black Lives Matter movement is that it wasn’t emulated. Not rebutted or contradicted, not the “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” response; but an acknowledgment that, like black males, there are other groups that are more likely to be caught in the crossfire than others.

Whether they be black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, male, or female— those who are most at risk of being shot by the police are those who are suffering from mental illness. And it’s time we, as a society, drag mental health care out of the nation’s blind spot. 

Someone living with mental illness is 16 times more likely to be killed by police, and the number of people with serious mental illness in prisons and jails outnumber those in state hospitals 10 to one.

Recently, a mentally ill black man was shot and killed in my hometown of San Diego. The man was having a ‘breakdown’ consistent with his mental illness and his sister called in the emergency providing information of his turbulent history of mental health issues.  Instead of sending a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), they sent city police and the man ended up dead.

News flooded the local channels, rallies and protests began, and lawsuits followed; and while the black lives matter messages echoed throughout each one, the fact that this man was mentally ill was only mentioned by reporters as an afterthought. He was in this situation because of a medical condition, and it ended up costing him his life.  So, where is the outrage? Where is the call for proper funding for PERT response? We have called for additional funds for cultural sensitivity training, but not more mental health training?

As home to one of the nation’s first free-standing schools of professional psychology, it’s crystal clear that Alliant understands that, just like diabetics need insulin, people with mental illness need treatment, and we’re committed to helping them get it.

But, that only addresses the troubling fact that nearly half of Americans who suffer from mental illness go untreated. What about the lack of consideration for the mentally ill in the justice system? This is a societal shift that can’t be implemented by one university alone. There needs to be a movement, one that hits home, touches hearts, resounds through the halls of legislatures, and has as much public support, and media consideration as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Psychiatric response teams, local hospital preparedness, and police force training must be funded. As a society, we seem to be collectively concerned with everyone having access to healthcare when it comes to our physical wellbeing and ignore mental health, and it’s costing us.

Reminiscent of a time when mental illness was diagnosed as demonic possession, or when physicians used bloodletting to cure everything from indigestion to acne, mental health needs are being overlooked. Like someone in denial, who hopes the issue will rectify itself— we are brushing our mental health needs under the rug and watching millions of Americans trip over the bulging piles. The Black Lives Matter movement is important, anti-hate-crime movements are vital, cultural sensitivity training is crucial, but — while we are coming together to evaluate the judicial system— it’s about time we start paying attention to simple, irrefutable fact that Mental Health Matters.


Cielo Villasenor is Alliant’s Communications Manager and can be reached at or 858.635.4050

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