Mental illness has been in the news a lot lately, and it’s good that we as a nation are talking about it. Unfortunately, the most important questions often get lost in the noise – how can we help people understand the importance of mental health and how can we help people with mental illness heal and recover? It’s critical that we ask these questions, because when we help people understand mental health and recover from mental illness, we improve the health and well-being not only of them, but of their communities.
The stakes are high. Close to one in five Americans 18 or older (18 percent) experienced a mental illness in the past year. People with mental illness are not on the fringes of society. We sit together at work, at church, at the Little League game, and at the dinner table. And with the right help, recovery and healing happen.
Unfortunately, over half of those with mental illnesses do not receive adequate help. According to the data collected at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 76 percent of the people who get help for a mental illness report no serious psychological distress six months later.
People who access mental health services experience better health outcomes as compared to those who do not. Our mental health impacts our physical wellbeing. Depression and stress can lead to insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, etc. If people with mental illness do not get the help they need, their health can significantly deteriorate. This has consequences, not only for them, but for their families, friends, and neighbors. This lack of treatment comes with an astronomical price tag of at least $193 billion a year in lost earnings alone according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
But there is good news. We now have more tools than ever to make a real difference and provide treatment for those experiencing mental illness. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act we can make a substantial investment in mental health screening, and improve access to treatment and recovery support systems. The ACA, along with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, expands mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections for 62 million Americans.
Efforts to provide essential treatment for those with behavioral health needs like mental illness are enormously important, but it is also critically important to provide everyone with accurate, helpful and up-to-date information about the nature of mental illness and what can be done to prevent and treat it. This information can free people from misconceptions that prevent themselves or those they care about from seeking the treatment they need.
On June 3, President Obama addressed this key issue by launching a national conversation on mental health. In his remarks that day, the President said it clearly -- “people can recover.” Through the national conversation on mental health, we hope to spread the message that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that if you or someone you know needs help, it’s available and effective. We also need to change our attitudes about people with mental illnesses, and build acceptance and support in our communities, congregations, schools and families.
The launch of this website, MentalHealth.gov, represents a key milestone in the national conversation on mental health. It features easy-to-understand information about basic signs of mental health problems, how to talk about mental health and mental illness, and how to find help for you or a loved one. As it develops it will become an ever-expanding source of useful information about every aspect of mental health.
The national conversation on mental health is occurring in community meetings across the country. People from every walk of life are coming together to support a wide range of efforts to promote mental health and public understanding of its importance.
These conversations are crucial opportunities for communicating essential truths about mental illness and recovery. People who experience mental illness are productive, contributing members of our communities. They are not “other people.” They are us. We owe ourselves, our children, and our neighbors, attention to our mental health and the help and support needed to recover from mental illness just as we would help and support people seeking treatment and recovery from any other health condition.
Substantial steps are being taken to reach people with these messages. The National Association of Broadcasters, representing local television and radio stations and broadcast networks throughout the country, has created a national public service campaign “OK2Talk” to reduce negative attitudes around mental illness. The multi-platform campaign includes TV and radio ads, online ads and resources and a robust social media platform to raise awareness – specifically among 13-24 year olds, their friends and caregivers – that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that help is available.
Other groups and individuals throughout the country, YMCAs and YWCAs, school principals, college students, faith communities, young people who have experienced mental health issues, public officials, health care providers, and many others, are also doing their part to get the word out that treatment for mental illness is available and effective. Through all these efforts we can all help realize the goal of having everyone perceive mental illness and other behavioral health issues for what they are – important, treatable health conditions.
For more information on what you can do to get help with mental health issues, for yourself, someone you care about, or your community, please check back on this website, and follow the dialogue on Facebook and Twitter .