US should work to erase stigma of mental illness


A common but grossly underrecognized thread weaves its way through many of the stories on social maladies that we and other news media outlets chronicle on a daily basis.

Whether it’s the out-of-control opiate epidemic, criminal misdeeds, mass shootings, homelessness or a hodgepodge of other societal ills, one common denominator too often lies at the root of the turmoil – mental illness.

Likewise, the prevalence of mental illness within the general population too often flies under the radar. Its scope is far more massive than many of us realize.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 350 million people across the globe battle severe depression, the most dominant of the more than 200 recognized mental illnesses. In the United States alone, more than 40 million adults live with some type of debilitating anxiety disorder.

Many regrettably suffer in silence, without the professional counseling and treatment they so sorely need.

That’s why this month’s nationwide observance of Mental Wellness Month deserves spotlight recognition. It aims to lessen the lingering stigma still inextricably tied to mental illness and to appeal for better treatment for its victims. The monthlong campaign should command priority attention and follow-up action.

SOCIETAL, PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES

Lessening the scourge of severe mental maladies can go a long way toward reining in a plethora of its dreaded consequences that tarnish towns large and small across the nation.

Consider its role in the crisis of drug addiction and opiate abuse ripping apart families and communities. A full 50 percent of people with a severe mental condition also have a severe substance-abuse problem, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Consider, too, the impact of mental illness on crime. As victims of violent crime, mentally ill individuals suffer a disproportionately large share of beatings, assaults and shootings. On the other end of the spectrum, untreated mental health sicknesses play a significant role in commission of many homicides and an even larger role in carrying out mass shootings, according to a recent study by the Howard Law Journal.

Consider as well its impact on homelessness. Impairments such as depression, bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder continue to be a major cause of the homeless crisis in our country and in our community. In the Mahoning Valley, recent surveys show this segment of our population rising quickly.

Bringing these and other data to the forefront can serve as the first step toward bringing mental illness out of the closet for public airing and, more importantly, for long-term healing.

In recent years, public awareness campaigns on the necessity to better recognize and treat mental illness have led to more local, state and federal resources devoted to that cause. Yet, mental-health officials point out that treatment facilities are still far too small for the growing demand and that public policies remain less than adequate to fully reach this underserved population.

Toward that end, already this year in the new session of Congress, several promising bills have been introduced toward more fitting care of our mentally ill. These include:

The Outpatient Mental Health Modernization Act of 2017 that would establish a Behavioral Health Advisory Team in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to monitor complaints of discrimination toward the mentally ill and to establish sound standards for community mental health centers.

The Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2017 that would provide increased resources for counseling of mentally ill and homeless veterans.

The Medicaid Bump Act of 2017 that would increase spending under Medicaid for more effective and comprehensive mental and behavioral health services.

Those and other public-policy initiatives can do their part to better help this vast segment of Americans. So, too, can compassionate personal intervention through encouraging those with visible emotional distress to seek the professional care they deserve.

As this year’s observance of Mental Wellness Month winds down, all should commit do to their part to destigmatize the disorder. In so doing, we can lessen the toll it takes on public health and safety and reduce the deeply personal pain and anxiety it inflicts on millions of its hapless sufferers and their loved ones.

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