We commonly think this about our counterparts in conflicts. Unfortunately the statistics about mental illness in the USA are such that we may not be wrong. A study just released by the Substance and Mental Health Service Administration states that nearly 20% of adult Americans “experienced mental illness in the last year.” Of that number less than 40% received treatment. Clearly not all mental illness is the same. And, plenty of people suffering from mental illness have their illness under control with medication and therapy and can operate in ways we would all understand to be rational. But the numbers are still serious enough that we can’t ignore them or assume that everyone we work with as counterparts, lawyers, and clients are mentally healthy.
The percentage of people with mental illness also varies according to age and gender. According to the SMHSA study, thirty percent of 18-25 year olds suffered from mental illness in the last year, while only 13.7 percent of those over 50 suffered (age does have its advantages). And, 20% of the nearly 20% of Americans who suffer from mental illness also suffer from substance abuse.
When I teach negotiation and client interviewing and counseling I make the point to my students that their counterpart or client might be suffering from mental illness and we discuss various mental illnesses and how they could influence the interaction. Other studies have discussed the higher rates of depression among law students and lawyers, and the higher rates of substance abuse among lawyers. The challenge is to distinguish between people we dislike or find difficult and those who are genuinely mentally ill.
To take a closer look at this recent report see http://oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k9NSDUH/MH/2K9MHResults.pdf