America gears up to battle stigma around mental health

Who in the world doesn’t fall sick? One can be unwell physically, or mentally. Though a physical illness hardly causes an embarrassment, there is usually a stigma attached to mental disorders. Even though celebrities have come out openly against stigmatizing mental disorders off and on, the general perception has not changed much.

Taking part in the Campaign to Change Direction on mental health in Washington, D.C. U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama too tried to address the issue last year. “When it comes to mental health conditions, we often treat them differently from other diseases like cancer, diabetes or asthma. And that makes no sense. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction. Because we know that mental health is just as important to our overall well-being as our physical health,” she said on March 4, 2015.

Prejudice around mental illness

People suffering from mental illness are often set apart from others and are labeled as a part of some stereotyped group. The preconceived notion that people have about those suffering from mental illnesses culminates in an unjust and prejudicial distinction resulting in feelings of shame, worthlessness, guilt and disinclination and unwillingness to seek help.

In a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy said, “We cannot begin to address the challenges to achieving emotional well-being and good mental health until we get rid of the unacceptable stigma – be they cultural, religious or social – associated with mental illness.”

Government intervention

The U.S. administration is currently proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care. The financial request, outside the budget cycle for the investment, was put forth by President Barack Obama on January 5, 2016. On February 12, 2015, the President signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act with the aim to help veterans of war suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The resources made available under this Act would enable treatment of mental illness of those who have recently returned from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Prior to this, the Mental Health First Aid Act of 2015 authorized $20 million for mental health first aid. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, provides access to mental health treatment for people affected by mental illness.

Shocking figures

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests that approximately one in four adults across the United States suffers from a mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and PTSD. Among them, less than 40 percent receive professional treatment, choosing instead to battle their ailment in silence, often to their detriment and that of others.

The risk of mental illness that is gradually plaguing the U.S. can be realized from a recent revelation by NAMI that at least 400,000 inmates currently behind bars in the country suffer from some type of mental illness — a population larger than the cities of Cleveland, New Orleans, or St. Louis. NAMI estimated in 2015 that between 25 and 40 percent of all mentally ill Americans will be jailed or incarcerated at some point in their lives.

Government funding

As per the annual survey released by NAMI, 23 states in the country increased their spending on mental health treatment in 2015. This number is low compared with 29 states having upped their budgetary allocations on mental health in 2014 and 36 in 2013. While 12 states decreased general funds for mental health, 14 had maintained budgets from the previous year.

Erin Wallace, senior director of strategic communications at Mental Health America, wrote to The Mighty in an email, “While some states are indeed enacting measures to address much needed mental health reform, it is concerning that overall the number of states that have increased funding has declined. Of even greater alarm is the startling numbers of Americans who are not receiving the necessary treatments for mental health and substance use issues.”

At a time when the American states are cutting down on their budgets on the overall mental health care system, awareness of mental illness in the country has increased significantly as a consequence of high profile events as the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy in 2012 and the death of Robin Williams in 2014.

Treating mental illnesses

The concern for patients suffering from mental illness must go beyond counting their numbers or the economic burden on the country due to lost productivity as a result of untreated mental illnesses in the U.S. The severity of the mental health problem in the country is a national issue.

If you or your loved one is battling any mental illness, do not keep it to yourself. Seek professional help to get rid of your problem. Take the first step towards a joyful life and call 247 Mental Health Helpline today. To consult one of our mental health specialists, please call our helpline at 855-653-8178 or chat online.