For too many today, the understanding of mental illness assumes it’s best to wait until those suffering become a danger to themselves or others. And when the inevitable crisis occurs, our only option is to call the police to keep everyone safe.

Root of the problem

If we apply that “dangerous” standard as a trigger for treatment, we are ignoring concerns until they become crises. We become trapped in a Stage-4 mentality that wouldn’t be acceptable for any other chronic condition.

Yet like every other chronic condition, mental illnesses do not begin the first time someone is in crisis. They often start years before, with symptoms that can be subtle and only appear serious after the first crisis occurs.

By the numbers

  • Fifty percent of us will experience at least one mental illness at some point in our life

  • Few of these mental illnesses will ever be associated with violent or dangerous thoughts

  • Half of all mental illnesses emerge during childhood typically as part of a gradual process, not suddenly when people become young adults

  • Ten years can pass before people with symptoms get a proper diagnosis and treatment (more than enough time to change the trajectories of their lives for the better)

Proactive solutions

Exposure to violence and trauma causes some mental illnesses. Reducing exposure to trauma can prevent many mental illnesses from even beginning. For people at risk, we should make early detection the norm, and mental health screening as common as vision or blood pressure screening.

We need to integrate health and behavioral health care. Let’s treat the whole person, not just one condition at a time in different health care settings. Let’s make our goal recovery from mental illnesses from the day they emerge.