At the White House National Conference on June 3rd, President Obama was powerful in expressing the critical importance of bringing mental illness out of the shadows. The President assured us that those who suffer should not be alone, should not feel ashamed, and should not endure the stigma that many current attitudes and beliefs maintain about mental health. The challenge of shifting the way we think about mental illness is extraordinary and ambitious, and calls for the involvement and commitment of our entire country.
In order to eliminate the stigma around mental illness, we must continue to elevate and strengthen conversations around mental health. We know that recovery is possible, treatment is effective, and that those living with mental illness have great potential to heal and thrive… yet mental illness has largely remained an isolating and ostracizing experience. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports. If treatment is so effective for mental illness, why are less than 40% of Americans receiving it?
Although it can feel like a sign of weakness to reach out for help, to seek treatment, and to speak openly about these issues, those who have struggled (or who have known someone that has struggled) understand the immense courage and strength involved in healing and recovering from mental illness. As the President candidly said, "We've got to get rid of that embarrassment. We've got to get rid of that stigma."
The President's devotion and commitment to this issue is not only admirable, but also a vital step in providing accessible, effective, and oftentimes life-saving treatment. His new Brain Initiative and investment in science and research has the potential to generate new techniques for early detection and prevention, more effective treatment options, and could lend validity to the brain based nature of mental illness.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older (about one in four adults) suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. With mental illness so common throughout the United States, most people have been touched or affected in some way. We need to become comfortable speaking about mental illness and tending to mental health and wellness just was we would with any physical illness. We need to become more educated and knowledgeable about mental illness, do a better job at detecting and recognizing mental illness, and do away with antiquated and pervasive myths that linger around mental illness. Mental Health America, an organization that launched the first public education campaigns around mental health, understands the significance of spreading awareness around mental illness, explaining that "an initiative such as this can do much to inform and educate and help break the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination that continue to bind people with mental illness."
As a law practice dedicated to helping individuals access treatment and recovery for eating disorders, every single day we experience how devastating barriers to such treatment can be. We are very thankful for the President's recognition, compassion, and involvement with this issue, and for potentially improving the quality of life for millions.
It's time to stop whispering about mental health, and start advocating for the mental health parity and equality that our country deserves.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines recovery as "A process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential."
Do not lose hope. You are no longer alone.
How will you take a step to talk about Mental Health? Please share your comments below or on Eating Disorders Legal Assistance Facebook.