10 Sep Representation of People with Invisible, but Real, Disabilities
I became a lawyer to use the power of the law to help people with mental health disabilities – the true and constant underdogs who must fight to prove they have disabilities and at the same time fear being labeled as a person with a disability.
I went to college to become a psychologist to help teens with mental illness. After I met a patient and young woman “Debbie” while working in college as a psych tech in the Pima County Mental Health Hospital, I was determined to instead be a mental health lawyer. I watched “Debbie” deteriorate in a place that was supposed to help her, having no family to advocate for her release from a system that was destructive, not constructive. I believed then, and now, that helping people with mental illness wouldn’t suffice by working in the system, but as a lawyer to change the system.
Almost 20 years later, I have been involved in systemic litigation against three different States Mental Health Departments. But the struggle to assist these individuals obtain humane treatment in mental health institutions transitioned to a continuous fight to keep individuals with disabilities out of jail and prison; the most inhumane of accommodations for a person with serious mental illness or developmental disabilities. With more than 25% of our jails and prisons populated with individuals with serious mental illness and developmental disabilities, understanding and dissecting insanity and competency laws, and the procedure and tactics to defend this population, became my calling. Now, I am a criminal defense lawyer that specializes in the area of criminal defense mental health law.
Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.