Mental Illness is a huge social problem. The Center for Disease Control calls it a “public health crisis.” Yet it seems that little is being done to address the challenges.
As a Mental Health Advocate I tend to focus on awareness and educational efforts because with a lack of education, knowledge and awareness it makes it very difficult to get a broader community to care about the cause.
It is extremely challenging to encourage policy makers to invest in mental health treatment and the subsequent supports that need to be in place. Yet the system is bleeding at every turn.
Robert Glover, Executive Director of the National Association of Mental Health Directors, says states cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009-2012. During the same time frame 4500 psychiatric hospital beds were eliminated, which is greater than 10% of the total.
Even though there is a greater need for services, there continues to be a reduction in budgets. What this looks like from a practical standpoint is the fact that when someone needs a psychiatric bed in a crisis situation they are often not available. In the event a person needs a long term inpatient stay the resources are just not there to support that need.
Other issues that get brought up in almost every discussion about mental health is the looming stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma is the number one reason why more than 60% of adults who need treatment don’t get treatment. When it comes to youth ages 6-18, less than 20% receive needed treatment. But what would happen if those who needed treatment actually tried to seek help? They would not have access to mental health care.
It seems like the only time our culture wants to have a discussion about mental health happens when there is a tradgedy that involves mental illness and gun violence. These conversations play for a few days on national media and then everyone goes back to business as usual and the problems plaguing mental illness get shoved under the carpet until the next crisis.
One of the biggest challenges is that those who have a mental illness are sometimes not able to advocate for themselves. Which means the most vulnerable among us have limited voices and cannot support the cause. Who is left to passionately drive for change?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 25%-40% of all incarcerated individuals have a mental illness. This represents more than 400,000 inmates who are primarily non-violent offenders who are living in jails and prisons. Not necessarily the best place for people to receive treatment. This is also a much higher cost to society than appropriate mental health services.
So what can we do? We need more people to care about these issues. It is time to increase our public education about mental health related issues and insist on appropriate changes to a very broken system.
We have many ways to increase our knowledge about mental illness. But in many ways we have gone back in time and rely on the Criminal Justice System to be our hospitals for those with mental illness.
I don’t know what all the solutions are but I do know that if more people are not willing to take up the cause we will be right back where we were in the 18th Century, criminalizing mental illness. In some ways we are already there…