If you sprained your ankle, would you just get some ice out of your fridge, elevate your foot, ice your ankle, and leave it like that, without going to a doctor? Or what about falling and injuring your arm? You’re bleeding, it HURTS… and yet you get out some bandages, tape it up, pop a few Aspirin to deal with the pain, and forego seeing anyone about it.
Of course not. So what makes people think they can just “suck it up” on their own when it comes to a mental health problem, without seeing a physician trained in mental health?
It makes no sense, and yet this happens all too often. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), between 30 and 80 percent of people with mental health concerns never receive treatment.
Let that unbelievable figure sink it for a minute. Fatigue, persistent sadness, and other problems not only impact personal lives, but also carry over into people’s professional lives with a lack of concentration, absenteeism, and short-term disability. Mental health conditions strike many Americans in their productive working years, and the results are so severe that WHO research shows that mental health conditions cause greater disability than cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
There are numerous reasons why people with mental health issues are never treated for it. They include:
* Fear and shame – they don’t want to be thought of as being “mentally ill” or “crazy;”
* Lack of insight – this is the, “there’s nothing wrong with me,” “I don’t need any help” thinking that paralyzes people into believing that they don’t need any assistance;
* Lack of trust – “I’m not telling a doctor about my problems”;
* Hopelessness – feelings that, “Nothing will help me” or “I’ll never get better” are significant roadblocks to treatment; and
* Practical obstacles – an inability to pay for treatment for financial reasons or lack of health insurance.
What can be done about it? Just as the issues are complex, solutions aren’t easy. However, the recent expansion of mental health insurance benefits has opened up new care options for many people who were previously uninsured and who couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for their treatment.
Raising awareness is also crucial. May is Mental Health Month. It is imperative for mental health professionals to reach out to the media about the problem, conduct workplace screenings, and hold events that call attention to mental health.
I have had some mental health issues myself, and one thought I have about screenings is for health care professionals to be careful about the wording. “Depression” screenings? Uh, no. Many people are likely to think, “I’m not depressed!” which goes back to the lack of insight listed above. My opinion is to use a phrase like “emotional well-being questionnaire”. Ask questions like, “Are you tired a lot of the time?” as opposed to, “Do you think you might be depressed?” Again, my thinking.
Much more important than my opinions are what mental health organizations are doing. Mental Health America (MHA) is asking individuals to share what life with a mental illness feels like for them in words, pictures, and video by tagging their social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike (or submitting to MHA anonymously). Posts will be collected and displayed at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/feelslike. Nothing like testimonials to make someone realize, “Hey that sounds like me!”
Here is another idea: Use a catchy slogan to REALLY promote the issue … through the media, social media, flyers, and so on. One catch phrase might be, “Mental Health IS HEALTH”. Remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs in the 1980s? Many thought it corny at the time, and maybe it was, but the fact one can still recall this phrase 30 years later indicates, to me at least, that it did some good.
However it’s accomplished, for once and for all, let’s all do our part to get everyone to recognize that people need treatment due to mental health conditions every bit as much as that person who sprained his ankle or the individual who injured his arm.