America’s Mental Health Crisis

Anyone who pays attention to the news media scene is well aware of the coverage the scientific battle against cancer gets. This is understandable; especially if you’ve lost a loved one to this disease, as cancer.org argues over thirteen million Americans have cancer as of 2010. Research and funding of cancer does not suddenly spike and then decline following every diagnosis or public instance of cancer, but this is the case with mental illness. In a report published in 2010 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 20% of the United States population is afflicted with mental illness, which comes out to nearly sixty three million mentally ill citizens, or fifty million more patients than are diagnosed with cancer of any variety. Given the wide range of mental illness it should be noted that a mere 5% of the United States population or fifteen and a half million citizens struggle with severe mental illness, once again a figure out doing the figures of cancer patients.

But alas the numbers are far from the whole story when it comes to mental illness. In wake of Aaron Alexis’s bloody rampage at the Washington Naval Yard and Adam Lanza’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary there was much talk about violent video games, gun control, and mere whispers of mental health reform. In the immediate aftermath of these tragic events the discourse of the public sphere was composed homogenously of hyperbole, but reality is a stark contrast to the popular narrative concerning the mentally ill. As previously mentioned 20% of the United States’ population lives with mental illness with a mere 5%-10% of violent crimes being perpetrated by the mentally ill, additionally this mentally ill sector of the popular is five times more likely to be murdered than the other 80% of the population.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy national news outlets eventually got to small special interest pieces on “success cases” of the American mental health system. These successes mainly focused upon young white males who were afflicted with debilitating illnesses such as Schizophrenia who were medicated into oblivion to the point they more closely resembled comatose zombies than the mentally sound. The issue that deserved to be discussed at length following these atrocities was the structure of the mental health system, not gun ownership and certainly not the content of the newest installment of Call of Duty.

As someone who has navigated America’s mental health system, the mentally ill are forced to fight their way into mental health facilities, which proves to be problematic seeing as many of these would be patient suffer from extreme apathy. Furthermore the difficulty of securing a spot in the facilities that can literally save the lives of these sixty three million Americans literally relies upon ‘beds’ or the physical space to house these patients. Due to funding and the length of time treatment takes the beds patients live in while institutionalized stay full too long to aid in the recovery of new patients. The fact that a mental hospital more closely resembles a hotel with a No Vacancy sign is extremely disheartening to those attempting to literally save their lives in these hospitals.

What the issue at play in these mental health settings is clearly up for debate, but the next step is not. We need action now. People are dying every day at the rate of one suicide every seven teen minutes. If we ignore every other possible painful outcome of mental and focus on the extremes here, the facts are quite clear: one out of five Americans are mentally, the mentally ill are five times more likely to be murdered, and three times every hour an American ends their own life. If Cancer or AIDS statistics were this stark, outlets such as CNN and Fox News would be losing their minds so why is this any different. The answer is clear: America needs to mobilize and force our leaders to discuss this epidemic at the highest level. This is an election year also known as the perfect time to demand action from your elected representatives. Demand reform of the mental health system before anyone reading this looses another loved one. Contact your representatives on the state and federal level and beg them to examine the state of mental health care, funding, medication, and all related government regulated areas of mental healthcare.

Do I see a day waking up when suddenly there is a national debate on mental healthcare due to a burgeoning crisis? No, mainly because we are in crisis and we need our leaders to realize what is happening. If you’ve gotten this far just please contact your representative here (http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/) and your senator here (http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm) and please remember two things: we can save lives today & if you are struggling with any form of mental illness get help, please.