Recognizing the magnitude of this issue, the World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) took steps to make mental health a global priority at a meeting of government officials, physicians, aid groups and others in Washington, DC this past April. The conference coincided with the results of a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, which provided a global estimate of the nearly three-to-five fold return on investment for treating anxiety and depression — the two most common mental health conditions.
For the first time in many years, there is growing awareness of the plight of mental illness and in the U.S. alone, there are an array of promising new initiatives to help address it, such as "ThriveNYC: A Mental Health Roadmap for All," spearheaded by the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane I. McCray. This far-reaching program includes a mix of innovative policies, increased funding and boots on the ground in New York City schools and communities to radically change how the city responds to and treats the mentally ill. In addition, insurers are now mandated to cover mental health services under the Affordable Care Act. And mental health courts, a concept piloted in Florida more than twenty years ago to divert the mentally ill from prisons into community-based treatment, are finally being put in place in other American cities.
All of these initiatives represent just a handful of the many hopeful signs of progress for the millions of people who suffer from mental health conditions. To ensure lasting change, what's needed is a sustained groundswell of public and financial support from leaders and policymakers around the world for additional research, treatments, trained professionals, and expanded access to quality care.
Indeed, one of the ways we can all play a powerful role in easing the burden of mental illness is by changing how we talk about it. In conversations with friends and family members, on TV and radio, in films, and across the social media spectrum, there are far too many misguided descriptions of people deemed psychotic, schizophrenic, obsessive-compulsive (OCD), bipolar and a litany of other psychiatric conditions. The convenient use of these words is often thought of as harmless or even amusing. But for people suffering from mental illness, this type of trivialization of a serious condition contributes to entrenched stigmatization and negative stereotypes – two of the main reasons people most in need of help are often afraid to discuss their condition or seek treatment.
With continued awareness, we can change our conversations to be more compassionate. And we can strive to be more frank with others about how our own lives may have been touched by mental illness. As hard as it is to start a dialogue with someone you trust about a deeply private mental health problem you or someone close to you are grappling with, chances are that others around you – or their loved ones – are dealing with the very same issues. What's more, when we openly talk about this type of issue, we normalize it, which can open doors for the others, and ultimately serve as a bridge to greater awareness and empathy.
Sadly, most people only get involved in championing the importance of mental wellness, when a family member or close friend has been diagnosed with a serious condition, or lost to suicide. But in fighting this deeply rooted global problem, we urge everyone to greatly expand their inner circle of support.
In the U.S., there are numerous volunteer opportunities through organizations such as Mental Health America, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization of its kind, which provides volunteers with the training and resources they need to raise public awareness, seek political advocacy, teach classes and run support groups, to name just a few of the many ways to get involved. There are also countless organizations throughout the globe, where individuals working together can make an enormous difference.
Simply stated, by helping to bring mental illness out of the shadows into the bright light of day, everyone can be a humanitarian.
Steve Lieber, Chairman of the Board, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
J. Anthony Boeckh, Member of the Board of Directors, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
Herbert Pardes, M.D., Former Director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, Past President of the American Psychiatric Association, Former Chairman of Psychiatry and Dean at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and current President of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council and Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees at NewYork-Presbyterian
Jeffrey Borenstein. M.D., President and CEO, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
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SOURCE Brain & Behavior Research Foundation