Mental Health America is a non-profit that is dedicated to the needs of those with Mental illness and their families. While you may have not heard of them, the organization was founded in 1909. For over 65 years, they have turned the month of May into a time of awareness. With over 200 affiliates in 41 states, MHA is a hardworking national as well as grassroots advocacy. And the need is real.
Unlike other Chronic illnesses, Mental illness is more difficult to diagnose. There is no simple blood-test, or x-ray. But strides have been made in the process, with the help of modern neuroimaging and genetics. Scientists today are working to uncover the biological keys of mental disorders. And the more that we learn … the more we can help patients to lead better lives. Healthier ones.
If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, this should be something to applaud and pray for. No matter the initial diagnosis, i.e. Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc., many chronically ill patients [at one time or another] will also be diagnosed with Depression and/or Anxiety. Setbacks can take a toll — physically, emotionally & mentally. Such forms of Mental illness can often be like that uninvited house-guest and much more troubling. Overcoming one becomes a separate struggle in itself — a difficult complication. Often times, an overwhelming one.
Chronically Mentally Ill is a medical (and legal) term for a patient who has been diagnosed with a major mental disorder by a licensed physician, i.e. Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, etc. Their illness has led to at least one hospitalization. It impairs their ability to work, their relationships, their thinking and their mood.
The prevalence of Mental illness in American society isn’t a myth. It isn’t an issue that we can afford to avoid. From the Christian perspective, we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9, NIV). God challenges us to think of others and not just ourselves. For those less devout, consider the numbers involved. Approximately, 1 in 5 adults struggle with a form of Mental illness. That’s over 48M people. And 1 in 25 adults, roughly 9M, live with a serious Mental illness. Over 20% of our youth experience a severe Mental disorder, at some point in their lives.
From the social standpoint, 26% of America’s homeless are living on the streets with a serious Mental illness. About 46% live with a severe Mental illness or substance use disorder. If they are lucky, they are able to find refuge in a shelter. If that shelter has an on-site clinic, they can get the medical attention that they need. But, often times, these individuals receive little help — becoming recipients of sporadic, revolving-door healthcare. Just over 50% of America’s children, ages 8-15, received mental health services last year. Did you know that half of all Chronic Mental illness presents itself by the age of 14? Three-fourths will show symptoms, by age 24. And, unfortunately, long delays can exist in treatment. This isn’t uncommon, no matter the socioeconomic factors involved. Years, sometimes decades, can pass from the time symptoms first appear until medical treatment is actually received.
As a result, Mental illness costs America over $190B in lost earnings each year. Approximately 37% of students with a Mental health condition, who are being served by Special Education will drop-out (ages 14-21). Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death. More than 90% of children who die from suicide suffer from a form of Mental illness. It’s also estimated that we are losing 18-22 military veterans every day to suicide. Most mentally ill patients are not violent. That noted, 3-5% of all violence — including those where firearms are used — can be attributed to serious mental illness. These facts cannot be ignored. The loss … the pain … endured by patients and families is really immeasurable. The loss to our society goes without saying. These patients/families need our support. We are facing a crisis that, left unattended, will surely worsen.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It isn’t the time to look the other way, or pretend that the facts do not exist. It isn’t the time to try and convince yourself that this “problem” doesn’t concern you. We are all in this journey called life, together. Now is the time to embrace the statistics … look in the mirror … and ask, “How can I make a difference?”
* Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash