Changing the Culture of Mental Health
Advocacy The repercussions of mental illness go beyond economic statistics. To foster true change, we must reset how our culture views mental health.
Although we have a lot of information about the state of mental health in America, we don't yet have a way of ensuring those in need of support receive the care they deserve.
Approximately 42.5 million Americans—about one in five adults—experience a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The National Institute of Mental Health reports one-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24 (NIMH 2005).
Also according to NIMH, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States.
We lose more lives to suicide than we do to car crashes. In 2011, the U.S. saw approximately 39,000 suicides compared to approximately 32,000 fatalities from car accidents, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to the human cost there is a tremendous economic burden associated with mental health. In 2006, $57.5 billion was spent on mental health-related expenses in the United States, equivalent to the amount spent on cancer care, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
But unlike costs associated with cancer, much of the economic burden created by mental illness is not the cost of care. Rather, as studies by NIMH also indicate, costs result from a loss of income due to unemployment, expenses for social supports and a range of indirect costs related to a chronic disability that begins early in life.
“We have to offer our compassion so that our friends and families can get the help they need, just like we would if they were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or anything else."
Seeds of change
Although mental health disorders occur among all ethnic groups, across all socioeconomic groups and in all regions of the country, many of those who experience challenges fail to get the support they deserve. Those in need frequently feel shame and guilt associated with a perceived weakness. What’s more, those around them often treat them with disdain, disgust or pity.
Culture change is no small task, but it is possible. Campaigns like Pink Ribbon, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Red Dress all tackled critical issues and changed the way Americans think and show support.
There are indications that America is ready for change. At the recent launch of the Campaign to Change Direction, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, stated, “We have to offer our compassion so that our friends and families and neighbors and our veterans can get the help they need, just like we would if they were diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or anything else. Because we all know that our mental health is just as vital as our physical health, so it’s time we started treating it that way.”