What If We Treated Cancer the Way We Do Mental Illness?

There is a reason why we call it mental illness. That is because it is an illness, just as much as cancer or pneumonia.

What if we thought that punishment was the proper way to deal with those who suffer from cancer?

We would lock them up. And when the symptoms of their illness got worse for lack of treatment, we would heap more punishment upon them, like solitary confinement for the lung cancer sufferers whose labored breathing is disruptive.

We know that sounds crazy. It is. But it is exactly the way the State of Nebraska deals with those who suffer mental illness. (Lincoln Journal Star coverage is here.)

We have to add that much sexual acting-out is symptomatic of mental illness. Thus a good number of sexual offenses are symptomatic of mental illness. This suggests that sexual offending is as much or more a public health problem than it is anything else.

But fear, ignorance and vengefulness trap us into treating it exclusively as a criminal problem.

And that means that all of the registries, websites and residency restriction laws in the world will do nothing to fix the problem.

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