Article by Andy
Edited by Madeleine and Audrey
Key Terms (WebMD)
Mental Health -- The level of psychological well-being of a person
Mental Illness -- Any condition that affects mental health, including mood, thinking, or behaviour.
Stigma -- disapproval of, or discrimination against, a person based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society
Why is it important to talk about?
It’s simple: mental illness affects a large part of the US's population. An article published by Harvard revealed that nearly half of all adults have experienced some form of mental illness in a year. Similarly, a psychology journal found that mental illness among adolescents had increased 52 percent within a span of 15 years (2002 - 2017). Additionally, a vast majority of these mental illness cases go untreated, and in some cases, unnoticed. It is imperative to note that mental illnesses are potentially life-threatening and should be treated seriously. With such a vast disparity between those who are sick and those who get treated, it is crucial that the mental health care system is closely examined and reformed to so that people have access to the care they need.
Brief History in the U.S.
As the spread of mental illness has grown, so has awareness of the dire situation. The month of May was first recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month in 1949. Although this was an attempt by the government to raise awareness of mental illness, true attempts at instilling awareness among the general population have only been around for around 20 years, as the solemnity of the situation has become increasingly well-known. Throughout this period, the we have seen the huge growth of the suicide lifeline, a reallocation of funds into governmental mental health programs, and policy changes addressing the situation. One example is the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, which greatly improved access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment services. Another example is the Affordable Care Act, which extended health coverage to many Americans. An estimated 11 million Americans gained access to both mental health services as well as substance abuse help as a result. Furthermore, in 2016, Congress passed a bill that would facilitate funds into combating the mental health crisis, as well as addressing the criminalization of individuals with mental health disorders.
Despite the US government's various measures aiming to address the mental illness epidemic, they still fall short. The annual 2018 comprehensive study into Mental Health Care by the World Health Organization revealed multiple deficiencies in both the quality of mental care and access to these services. One important deficiency is the lack of quality staffing, making it difficult for patients to schedule prompt face to face sessions with high quality doctors. Another deficiency was that mental health care is too expensive and not covered by some insurances. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, up to 22 million Americans cannot afford general healthcare, much less mental health care. With suicide mortality rates climbing increasing, the mental health sector needs reform so that everyone can receive quick and accessible treatment, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
How the general public can help:
Mental illness does not go away just by implementing healthcare reform. There is an abundance of actions the public can take to both assist themselves and others with mental illness. One of those actions is actively working to clear stigmas around mental illnesses. By placing shame on those with mental illnesses, those individuals are prevented from being able to freely seek the healthcare they need. In fact, studies have shown that normalizing mental illness inside society can reduce the more superficial cases of mental illness. By accepting mental illnesses as common, society creates its own support system where it is easier to seek help from people. Next, awareness about mental illness is crucial in order to combat the epidemic. Without awareness, it becomes impossible to combat stigma against mental illness.