A Cause for Alarm
Mental Illness and Public Policy
by Joseph W. Vanable, Jr.
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Pub Date 30 Nov 2020 | Archive Date 08 Jan 2021
When a person has a heart attack or stroke, the response is immediate: a 911 call, a rush to the hospital, with emergency treatment in the ambulance, and urgent efforts at the hospital to restore the health of the stricken person.
In contrast, when someone is dealing with a serious mental illness, attempts to find help are more often than not met with intense frustration and limited success. When seeking an appointment with a psychiatrist, assuming one accepting new patients can be found, the response is often not unlike that associated with scheduling cosmetic surgery: “The first appointment that we have available is not until three weeks from now.” The alternative is the local hospital’s emergency room, but will there be a doctor there who has an adequate background in psychiatry? And if hospitalization is in fact the answer, is there a bed available at a suitable psychiatric facility?
Roughly half of those living with mental illness end up not receiving any treatment at all, and, as a result, may wind up in jail or prison, or dead. The number of persons affected by serious mental illness is not trivial; its prevalence is even greater than many may realize. 1 in 10 people in the United States live with either clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. That amounts to more than 3,000,000 individuals!
There is no question that it is imperative to treat a heart attack or stroke with urgency. But serious mental illness, even schizophrenia, is as treatable as cardiovascular disease; in some cases, such as with bipolar disorder, these illnesses are even more treatable than others that are taken much more seriously by society as a whole. This book examines the many factors that contribute to limited access to treatment of mental illness, and lays out the costs resulting from this lack of access, both human and fiscal. It is a jeremiad of the misconceptions about mental illness and the misguided public policies that contribute to this serious problem. It also provides some suggestions for how to begin solving it. The hope is that it will energize enough readers to do something about this deplorable situation, and to provide them with the wherewithal to accomplish this task.