The Mental Health Crisis
BY SHELLEY PLEMONS
What can we do about the mental health crisis
It is no longer news that the country is in a mental health crisis. Suicide rates are off the charts, so is the number of addicts and people dying of drug overdose. These series of events are a direct consequence of the decline in mental health across the nation. But they do not tell the full story. Mental health cases are more rampant than ever and the dearth of professionals equipped with the necessary skills to tackle the crisis have never been more obvious. It’s high time we all looked inwards as a nation and come up with lasting solutions to the crisis.
What do the statistics say?
● About 50% of Americans are diagnosed with a mental health problem at least once in their lifetime
● The disorders account for the third most common cause of hospitalization
● An estimated 44 million Americans currently suffer from mental illness
● Adults with serious mental health conditions die about 25 years earlier than their counterparts without mental health conditions
● 42,000 Americans commit suicide every year
● 60% of Americans with mental health conditions DO NOT RECEIVE TREATMENT
● 23 million Americans suffer from addiction
● 88% of addicts DO NOT RECEIVE TREATMENT
These shocking statistics serve to highlight the magnitude of the problem. Previously, mental health used to be a distant topic; something that applied to others. However, this situation has changed. Virtually every American has had a first-hand feel of mental health disorders and the number of people affected keeps increasing. If urgent steps are not taken, the damage can only get worse. Below are some proposed solutions that could help us get out of the crisis:
Examine the work culture
Stress is one of the major risk factors for mental health disorders. And workplace stress is the leading cause of stress among Americans. Many people float through their work days without finding any joy in their work. Some work longer hours than they should and many others run multiple shifts. If we are to make a headway, we need to examine the workplace culture and find ways to make work less stressful and more satisfying. Studies already show that employees crave a sense of safety, a sense of belonging, and the feeling that they are needed. As long as the three components can be put in place, stress at the workplace can be reduced. And that would lead to a reduction of stress across the board.
As mentioned earlier, a good number of people with mental health conditions do not receive treatment. And this only compounds the problem. The DPC model proposed for primary care physicians as well as mental health providers presents a potential solution to the problem. However, there are challenges with the implementation in many states. Bottlenecks such as Certificate of Need (CON) laws and its variations also prevent mental health service providers from expanding their services. Such inhibitory laws limit access to mental health services and it’s high time they were reviewed.
Mental health treatment facilities are grossly underfunded. If we are to overcome this crisis, the situation has to change. A recent study showed that the number of beds available for psychiatric patients fell by about 17% between 2010 and 2017. A statement by the Executive Director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program, Robert Glover revealed that state boards cut about $5 billion in mental health funding. This shows there isn’t enough commitment to finding a solution to the crisis on the part of lawmakers.
Encourage open conversations
Our attitude towards conversations surrounding mental health has to be one of the major contributors to the crisis. This goes beyond the work of the government or healthcare providers. Everyone has a role to play in encouraging open conversations about mental health. Beyond the conversations, we have to be less judgemental and actually show we care. Statistics from the CDC indicate that only 25% of adults with a mental health disorder believe people are sympathetic or caring towards them. Awareness efforts should encourage people to be more open and receptive of those suffering from mental health conditions.
Overcoming the mental health crisis would entail active participation for all stakeholders concerned. Policymakers at all levels, healthcare providers, the media, and the general populace all have a role to play. If we can embrace the solutions proposed above, we may actually stand a chance in this battle.