Tuesday, June 07, 2005

IF YOU LIVE IN THE U.S., you are more likely to suffer from mental illness and less likely to get appropriate treatment than anywhere else in the world.

There are a number of explanations:

  • Inadequate health insurance
  • The continuing stigma attached to mental illness
  • Failure to understand or recognize early signs of mental illness

It's all too true that mental illness is still viewed as chosen behavior that is under the individual's control. In my experience, this is especially so when it comes to depression. It's unbelievable to me, the number of otherwise intelligent, sensible adults who think that a person suffering from chronic, severe, or major depression makes a decision to feel that way and can decide to stop feeling that way. Many people also do not understand the difference between normal feelings of sadness, or "feeling down," and clinical depression, which is a bona fide medical disorder rooted in brain function -- no different in that regard than an aneurysm or a tumor. This confusion probably explains why as many as one-third of individuals suffering from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety seek help from spiritual advisors or friends, or other nonprofessionals.

Thomas Insel -- chief of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the $20 million study -- said the nation needs to recognize that mental illness is a chronic condition that requires expert medical attention just as heart disease, Alzheimer's and diabetes do.

He said he was disappointed to learn from the survey that despite the availability of effective treatments for many mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, about a third of people in need rely solely on nonprofessional sources such as Internet support groups and spiritual advisers.

"You wouldn't rely on your priest for treatment if you had breast cancer," Insel said. "Why would you go to your priest for a major depressive disorder? These are real medical and brain disorders, and they need to be treated that way."

This is where that connectedness business comes into play again. If we valued public health as much as we do military might or the pursuit of wealth, then public policy would reflect that priority. Too many Americans think that the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth because it's the most powerful nation on earth. My view is that we cannot be the greatest nation on earth if living here means you are more likely to suffer from mental illness and less likely to be treated for it than anywhere else in the world.

Via TalkLeft.

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