America’s Dark Secret: Mental Health in Crisis

It gets blamed for so much but is understood so little: mental illness. It’s been said that most people will experience some form of depression in their life. Most won’t have to seek treatment, but up to 80 percent will. Mental illness encompasses so much more than depression and anxiety. Diagnostic criteria in the DCM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) lists conditions such as ADHD, substance abuse, and bipolar disorder aside lesser known diagnoses. Still, mental illness remains America’s dark secret. Millions suffer in silence afraid that admitting their conditions will set them up for ridicule, discrimination, and loss of employment.

With that being said, just how prevalent is mental illness?

1 in 5 adults will have a mental health condition in their lifetime. That’s 40 million Americans at any given time.

Youth depression rose from 8.5% in 2011 to 11.1% in 2014 (and is still rising.) 80% of those adolescents are left with no to insufficient treatment.

56% of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment.

Along with those staggering statistics, America faces a workforce shortage in the mental health professions. There is currently only 1 professional per 1,000 individuals. I have seen these stats first hand. My son is diagnosed with multiple mental health conditions, and there have been times we were forced to wait for months in between appointments with therapists and psychiatrists. This is problematic for multiple reasons, the worst being a decline in progress that had been previously achieved, and the fact that he felt like providers were leaving him on purpose due to something he had done.

Less access to treatment can also lead to more incarceration for adults with no support. Mental illness can be linked to the main cause of homelessness and unemployment among the adult population. (Remember the discrimination I mentioned above.) And sadly, mental illness affects our returning service members at a far greater rate than the general population.

During the Obama administration, mental illness care received a boost under the ACA. S 2680 and HR 2646  (November 2016) furthered those goals, allowing for such things as programs for advanced screenings and early intervention, prioritizing community-based services, and incentives to grow the mental health workforce. A lot of these programs were focused on a reduction in incarceration, and homelessness.

Unfortunately, these programs are funded by Medicare, the largest source of funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment in the US. The ACA was the first time there was a national structure for cohesive mental health treatment. It guaranteed coverage for individuals with low income to no income and ensured companies couldn’t impose caps or refuse coverage for prior conditions.

All these things are threatened by the current administration’s proposed health care overhaul. The AHCA of 2017 and its lack of protections for pre-existing conditions, coupled with its attack on behavioral health, makes it the perfect storm for the destabilization of countless people. In a time where we are faced with a huge opioid crisis is this really where we want to head? These changes will only serve to further the stigma associated with mental illness and throw our country back by decades.

It’s a sad statement on our country that in 2017 we are still marginalizing the most vulnerable among us, and causing people with, in most cases, highly treatable conditions to suffer in silence. Often times alone. We need to take a look at who we elect to lead us, they eventually are responsible for writing and implementing policy, and vote with more consciousness. We also need to step up and fight for those affected, show people that we accept them. Teach tolerance, acceptance, and foster communities where we all feel safe to be ourselves. Because in the end it’s up to each and every one of us to stand up and end the stigma.

*stats and references taken from mentalhealthamerica.net and theatlantic.com

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