People are having conversations about our Neanderthal mental health system in bars, political groups, living rooms, and churches. The cuts to mental health have indeed been devastating. SC went from a “B” to a D in a couple of years as a result of the cuts. But funding isn’t the only issue. The biggest problem with mental health care in this country is the lack of respect. Persons with mental illnesses sometimes function better in third world countries, as they are a part of the community. In America Persons with mental illnesses are ostracized, ridiculed and denied equal access to opportunities. People ask, “Why did the parents not notice? Why did they not get help?” Obviously, lack of available healthcare is a problem, but the problem is much larger than a lack of services. Some families may deny their child suffers from a mental illness out of fear of being blamed for the child’s mental illness and stigma. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people accuse a person of being a bad parent b/c his or her child suffers from a mental illness.
Lack of education is a huge problem. Even mental health care professionals are not always good at diagnosing and identifying problems. Many children are diagnosed with ADHD and placed on stimulants. Stimulants can make some psychological issues much worse. Also, the DSM is very limiting in some ways.
I personally believe the brain is like an ecosystem. Various disorders such as anxiety or attention deficit may be by products of another underlying disorder. Many people are treated and diagnosed with episodic illnesses when they actually suffer from a cyclic illness. Antidepressants can make cyclic illnesses such as bipolar much worse by triggering mania and rapid cycling. Subtle symptoms of bipolar are often missed. For example, problems such as insomnia, anxiety and or irritability can be symptoms of hypomania and these symptoms are often missed. Not all patients with cyclic mood disorders exhibit the high psychotic manias. I personally think that pain should also be included in the list of DSM symptoms for depression and or mood disorders.
So what is the solution? First, we need more education and advocacy. Most mentally ill people are not violent and even the most severe mental illnesses are treatable. Secondly, we need to work on reducing stigma in our society. Many people with mental illnesses want to be a part of the community and are capable of becoming functioning members of society with the right treatment and support services. We also need to examine the way mental illnesses are treated and diagnosed. Mental health clinics have become factories that hand out prescriptions like candy. While medication intervention is often necessary, alternative treatments should also be investigated.
When an art studio for the mentally ill was shut down about five years ago in Spartanburg County, patients and caretakers talked about how the art studio helped prevent hospitalizations. I also like the philosophy of the New Day Clubhouse where participants are referred to as members instead of patients and all members are encouraged to be an active part of the community.
Mental illness can knock on anyone’s door and doesn’t discriminate. That is why we need to change our archaic mental health system. A little compassion, respect, and creativity could go a long way in terms of improving the lives of everyone.