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Michele Veenker is the executive director of NAMI Clackamas. She raised her children in Clackamas County

Recently President Trump called people with mental illness "monsters" and blamed recent tragedies on mental illness.

Michele VeenkerWhile our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of violence, blaming mass shootings and other violent crimes on mental illness is statistically false, misleading to the public and harmful to those in need of treatment.

The term "mental illness" as a catch-all does not recognize the continuum of mental illness and mental wellness that stretches throughout an individual's lifespan. Fifty percent of us will experience a diagnosable mental illness in our lifetime. We are not monsters, nor are most of us violent or in need of the increased institutional care the president suggested. In fact, people with mental health concerns are 23 more likely to become victims of violence.

Angela Kimball, NAMI's acting CEO — the person who helped me advocate for my daughter when she was falling through the cracks of our broken system and a proud Oregonian — says, "Instead of locking 'those people' up, we need to talk about the power of early treatment and effective intervention to change lives."

Furthermore, she suggests some common-sense approaches that we know are effective and that can be implemented now to improve access to mental health services.

"We must:

n Promote early intervention. Half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14; 75% begin by age 24. Getting help early results in better outcomes and lowered costs.

n Invest in better access to quality care. Too many people still do not have access to or cannot afford the mental health services they need to recover. · Divert people from the criminal justice system. Jails and prisons shouldn't be today's mental health institutions like they currently are. Instead, we need readily available crisis response and intensive mental health services for people experiencing severe symptoms."

Words matter. One of "these people" the president referred to is my daughter. She is not perfect, and some of her words and actions are hard to understand. Yet she one of the kindest and caring people I know, constantly worried about people who are worse off than her. She has been a victim of crime, more than once. She is not a "monster." She lives daily with misunderstanding, mistrust, judgment and discrimination. She often tells me how the words people use hurt her.

People with mental health challenges are our friends, neighbors, children, spouses. They're not "monsters," "the mentally ill" or "crazy people" — they're us, and we all deserve love and respect and not scapegoating, name-calling and discrimination.

Michele Veenker is the executive director of NAMI Clackamas. She raised her children in Clackamas County, and many of them — including the one mentioned in this article — still live in the county.


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