In a 2015 Urban Institute study, the percentage of inmates with a mental disorder sits right around the halfway mark. That’s federal (45%), state (56%) and county jail inmates (64%), and the problem isn’t getting any better. In fact, the largest jails and prisons have more mentally ill residents than do most inpatient psychiatric facilities and according to a paper by Legal Executive Institute, that percentage is three to four times higher than the rate of mental illness in the general population.

And as most correctional facilities are not equipped to properly treat these conditions — much less on such a grand scale – too many people with mental disorders find themselves forever lost in a system that can’t give them the help they need. So, when we’re talking about increasing access to justice, it’s imperative that we keep this unique population in mind.

One solution that’s helping in criminal cases is the formation of Mental Health Courts – local courts designed to improve the quality of life of people with mental illnesses and improve public safety by encouraging participation in treatment programs as an alternative to traditional incarceration.

The number of mental health courts has increased exponentially throughout the country over the last two decades; as of 2017, Florida has 23 such courts operating in 14 circuits.

Of course, ideally, we’d want to provide proper treatment and assistance before a criminal act is committed, and there’s still the matter of civil justice – how do we ensure those with mental illnesses receive the civil justice they need? These goals become even harder to meet when, as a society, mental illness remains a relatively taboo subject. In this 2016 HuffPost article by Janine Francolini, the author notes that mental health continues to be a civil rights issue for five simple reasons, one being that “discrimination is still the norm.”

“… we walk past people in crisis, we ignore those in our immediate communities, including friends and family. We let the stigma overshadow our compassion, and this is the most insidious manifestation of discrimination.”

So, let’s change that.

May is National Mental Health Month and we’re inviting you to help us raise awareness for this important issue. Mental Health America is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans. This year, they’re focusing on the connection between mental health and physical well-being, using the theme, Finess #4Mind4Body.

The campaign is meant to educate and inform individuals about how eating healthy foods, gut health, managing stress, exercising, and getting enough sleep can go a long way in making you healthy all around.

And here’s how you can help…

Go here and grab your free Mental Health Toolkit – in it, you’ll find plenty of media materials, fact sheets and images you can use to help spread the word. And of course, don’t forget to use the hashtag #4Mind4Body wherever you can. Together, we can give mental health the attention it deserves.