America's Mental Health Crisis

Who is affected?

A sizable percentage of the world's population is disabled by mental illness. One major study finds that fifty percent have experienced a diagnosable mental illness over the course of their lifetime, thirty-one percent over the last twelve months. People will mental illness are more likely to be unemployed, have difficulty with relationships, and have a poor quality of life. People will mental illness face discrimination in housing and employment.

The most serious disorders

Recent research has implicated major depression first as the leading cause of disability worldwide, accompanied by alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in the top ten.

Hot topics distract from mental health concerns

Spending, treatment, and education about mental illness are woefully inadequate when contrasted with "hot topics" like heart disease, fitness, and domestic violence. Furthermore, effective treatments have been developed for many mental disorders, such as OCD and PTSD, that are too often not offered to patients in need.

It is essential that the treatment and prevention of mental disabilities become a priority in the US, and education is the first step. There are many practical ways to accomplish the goal of improved mental health education. Warning youth about drug and alcohol addiction is a good start, but the educational system must also teach young people about the other types of disability that spring from poor mental health. For example, teens could be introduced to basic mental health concepts just as they now learn about nutrition and birth control

Solutions to the crisis

More research funds should be diverted to finding treatments for mental illness. Family physicians could make screening for psychopathology part of the annual physical. Legislation should be introduced to strengthen the rights of mentally disabled persons. Insurance companies must be compelled to provide coverage for mental health practitioners at "parity" with medical doctors treating other physical ailments. Pharmaceutical companies can be given incentives to develop and improve psychoactive drugs.

The time is now

With so many effective treatments available, it makes little sense for most of the world to suffer with treatable mental illnesses. Grass roots organizations like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) will be instrumental in bringing about these needed changes. Aggressive steps can and must be taken to alleviate the suffering of millions.

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