America Needs Affordable Mental Health Care Now by Tina Phillips
January 23, 2011
Previously Published in The Pioneer
What will it take before America wakes up and realizes we need quality affordable mental health care? If the tragedy recently in Arizona does not tell us, what will?
Now we do not know precisely what caused Jared Loughner to do what he did. Most professionals who have examined his writing believe he is probably suffering from a mental disorder called schizophrenia. In general, schizophrenia does not cause people to be any more violent than people without a mental illness. However, using substances can increase the likelihood of violence in anyone and complicates matters for those with mental illness. Jared Laughtner was also a known substance user among his friends.
What we do know is that many people in Jared Laughter’s life knew he had mental health issues. His family, his friends, his teachers, and his community college. Yet at every turn he was not given the help he needed. Instead of recognizing that he had a mental illness and getting him the help he needed, many turned away instead of turning towards him. His community college even kicked him out asking for him to get a mental health clearance before returning. However, did they help get him the services he needed? No.
The stigma of mental illness is what keeps many people from addressing mental health concerns. When a person acts “strangely” behaviorally people tend to shun them, ignore them, or isolate them. This is exactly what people with a mental illness do not need. The mental illness itself if enough of a challenge to live with– if your friends, family, and society do not support one through it, the consequences are dire.
That is why it is so imperative that as a society we know what mental illness looks like and we are able to recognize basic signs and symptoms. If one knows this they are able to see it in others and hopefully intervene. Intervention can come in the form of helping that person to get counseling, getting that person a mental health assessment, and if all else fails find out what are your options for helping that person– even if they cannot help themselves. As a society we must show people compassion and understanding and that can only come through a true education about mental illness. We must cast aside notions that people with a mental illness are not worthy of help or that there’s nothing we can do about it.
The truth is mental illness is very common in America. About 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older, around one in four adults, have a diagnosable mental illness. That is 57.7 million people. Around 6 percent, or 1 in 17, have a serious mental illness. Just think about not only how many people have a mental illness, but how many people are impacted by friends, family, co-workers, etc. one may know who do.
We have a mental health crisis that needs addressing on a public policy level, a social level, as well as an individual level in our every day lives. It is time to acknowledge that mental illness impacts most Americans in some way and to end the stigma so that people living with a mental illness can live more dignified lives and get the help and support they need.
One may be surprised to know that the vast majority of people who have a mental illness can and do recover from it. There has been many advances made in the treatment of mental illness, including medications, case management, and community supports. However, in order for people to access these services they need to be readily available and free to those who cannot afford them. In order for this to happen we as a society must commit to fully funding mental health care. As a society we deserve nothing less than universal tax-payer funded health care that will provide for all our citizens regardless of income or ability to pay.
We need to help those in need. Not only because there could be drastic outcomes, like that in Arizona, but because people need the help. We need to create the kind of society where if someone needs help, we help them. We are all mutually dependent on each other and we are all social beings. Without the support of each other in our times of need we all suffer. People with mental illness deserve to live a life of dignity, independence, and be empowered to live productive lives. People with mental illness deserve the opportunity to recover.
In California we passed the Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63) to fund prevention, early intervention, and provide services to those who need mental health help. This Act placed a 1% income tax on personal income of anyone making more than $1 million. We need a national policy that will provide for the funding needed to support those with a mental illness in this country. In addition, we need a massive education plan to help the American people understand mental illness, be able to recognize the symptoms, and teach people how to get others the help they need. We must create public policy that makes sense so that people are not left without needed services. We have to ensure that now that we know how many people are affected by mental illness and we know what is at stake, we insist that this legislation is created, passed, and quickly implemented. As a society we deserve nothing less.