I had a conversation recently with a friend about mental health and the continuing need for funding to help those that require assistance. He felt that funding for mental health seems to lack the emotional attachment linked to physical health issues. If you see a person on crutches who walks with some visible disability, you take notice and often feel some degree of empathy. If you have a heart and you witness something similar, it tugs at your emotions because it is compelling. But you could pass 100 people on the street, many of whom might seem friendly or preoccupied, and not know that 20 of them are suffering. They ache emotionally inside, yet there is often no tell-tale sign of mental illness unless a degree of unusual behavior emerges.
Mental health funding matters because it continues to be a major health issue in the United States. If you examine the numbers of people suffering from mental health problems, it becomes clear that it touches huge segments of the population and that no one is immune. One of the most telling figures is that approximately one in five adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5% of the population experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the Alliance for Mental Health. It appears that one in 25 adults, or about 10 million people, experience a serious episode of mental illness that “interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”
It also continues to carry a stigma for some, though it shouldn’t. Followers of presidential politics recall what happened in 1972 when Senator Thomas Eagleton became the vice presidential running mate of Senator George McGovern for only 18 days. After Eagleton had admitted suffering from depression (and being hospitalized and receiving electroshock therapy), McGovern pressured him to drop from the ticket. In a 2007 New York Times obituary of Eagleton, McGovern said he regretted the decision. McGovern is quoted as saying: “If I had it to do over again, I’d have kept him. I didn’t know anything about mental illness. Nobody did.”
Now we know better, and we further know that treatment is available, and it should not carry the stigma that once shrouded this issue.
The need for continued funding for mental health is an inarguable case. The United States bears the cost of about $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually. That’s the economic impact, but there is that element I like to refer to as the personal impact. Who among us has not felt that extra degree of pressure in our personal lives when we felt the walls were closing in and wondered what to do next? Who among us doesn’t have a family member or a friend who might benefit from some treatment during a particularly stressful period? We all have them, and adequate mental health resources with no stigma attached to those who seek it would allow everyone a chance for treatment.
I think about this availability of resources and the need to at minimum maintain the funding when I hear about someone who commits suicide. I cannot help but wonder whether it was preventable if only they had help? According to the Alliance for Mental Health,
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,the third leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 24 and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24.
- More than 90 percent of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.23
- Each day an estimated 18 to 22 veterans die by suicide.
Not every one of these tragedies can be traced to mental illness but having spent time with mental health professionals and crisis coordinators, I have learned that a fair share are. These types of tragedies greatly affect the victim’s families, who suffer the consequences, but they should affect us as well. I’m idealistic enough to believe that many of these victims might have been saved with treatment. At the very least, we should ensure that help is available to everyone that needs it. That’s my take, what’s yours?