On November 21 the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy and the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum co-hosted a mental health forum. A government class from Abilene High School participated. The forum began with an introduction to deliberative discussion. Then the students discussed three approaches to mental health care: individuals’ rights and treatment preferences come first, the public shares responsibility for individual care, and treatment of criminals with mental illness is preferred to incarceration. Facilitated small groups deliberated all three approaches, identifying the benefits and consequences of each.
In discussion of the Individuals Come First approach the students agreed it is problematic to expect someone to make health care decisions when they do not have the capacity to understand their situation and make decisions. With the Public Responsibility option, the groups were concerned with the privacy of the individual. Though the third option, Treatment Over Criminalization, concerns only the small number of people with mental illness who encounter the criminal justice system, the students agreed with the approach. Looking at all three approaches the class agreed mental health care needs to draw on all three approaches, depending on each individual’s situation.
The high school seniors grappled with the hard-to-talk about issue of mental health care. A theme throughout the deliberation was the need to reduce the stigma on mental illness. The group suggested one response is to educate people about the truth of mental illnesses. A possible option for the education process was to make a mandatory high school course on mental health issues. Though it will be a long process to reduce the stigma, the group was hopeful society was heading in the right direction.
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