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Letter from the Editor: When Mental Illness Hits Home

Approximately one in five people ages 13 or older experiences mental illness in a given year. That’s 20 percent!
depression, mental health, mental illness, battle, black women
A pair of cowboy boots is shown in the street outside the concert venue after the mass shooting in Las Vegas Photo: Reuters

The world feels like it is in turmoil. Just twenty years ago, it seemed the U.S. was shielded from the three greatest threats to life and wellbeing— violence, natural disasters, and illness — because it always seemed to take place with greater frequency and devastation in other places. Never at home.

Today, we know that presumption is entirely false. Delusional. Arrogant, even.

Between Hurricane Maria destroying the island of Puerto Rico and the mass shooting at a country-music concert in Las Vegas that killed 50 people, we have seen both violence and natural disaster all in one week, resulting in one of the largest death tolls in modern U.S. history.

Thankfully, the last major threat— widespread illness— has not yet hit U.S. soil…

Or has it?

Are we considering the massive numbers of people of all ages currently suffering from mental illness? Yes, I said massive. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 people ages 13 or older experiences mental illness in a given year. That's nearly 20 percent of the population!

And what happens when you fail to address an illness? Unfortunately, most often, death! For example, reports suggest that up to 60 percent of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970 displayed symptoms of mental illness.

Consider these other stats:

  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.
  • Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.
  • African Americans and Hispanic Americans each use mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.

Do you know someone close to you suffering with mental illness? What has been your response to them? Is it, "They're crazy! Let me get as far away from them as possible?" Or perhaps you think, "That's not my problem. They should go get help."

Well, I'm ashamed to say, that that was somewhat my attitude, until mental illness recently hit home.

Read HERE the very personal, heartbreaking story of my recent brush with mental illness, and what I am learning about how to best deal with it.

If you or someone you know is battling with this life-altering illness, there are a number of really great, private resources in the City to help you navigate your way through: Call 1-888-NYC-WELL; text WELL to 65173 or chat live at

Be well.


C. Zawadi Morris, Publisher

BK Reader

C. Zawadi Morris

About the Author: C. Zawadi Morris

C. Zawadi Morris is an award-winning journalist and a Chicago native who moved to Brooklyn in 1997.
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