Background/disclaimer: I understand that the combination of the city's busiest ER and the close proximity to the homeless shelter can be frustrating to the staff here. I understand venting. That in itself does not bother me at all; I'd much rather the staff vent to each other instead of to a patient. Another disclaimer: I work at this facility, but am not employed by this facility.
Anyway, as my lunch was heating, two men at the table were having a political discussion. They were covering all the big issues: budget crisis, Socialism, Medicare, Social Security... you know, the hot buttons.
Quick aside: they were saying that there is enough money in the country, but it's distributed wrong - too many people making too much money for "nothing." Just as I was thinking that so many conservatives feel this way but are so opposed to Socialism, although their solution is the very definition of Socialism, one man said "Better not say that too loudly, we'll get called Socialists or Communists." At least he's a little aware...
But back to the issue. As he was ranting on and on, he wondered how many of his patients on disability or Medicare or Medicaid ever worked. Then he said if a patient is really sick, he doesn't care one bit if they work or not. A person is a person, "What would Jesus do?" Then went on to say but if they're just here because they're drunk or overdosing or suicidal, he doesn't care, get out of his way so he can help the real sick people.
I ALMOST pointed out that the second part of his statement totally goes against the "WWJD" part - if I remember correctly from all my years of VBS, Sunday School, church, and the whole growing-up environment... Jesus didn't discriminate between physical illness and mental illness. He didn't say "Bring me your sick, but only if they're physically sick and insured."
Sadly, this is a prevalent attitude toward mental illness in our country. Not many people seem to be interested in treating these people, but instead want to hide them away or write them off as "you asked for it."
Here are some facts about mental illness from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):You can see how vital treatment is of mental illnesses. It's not an uncommon problem, either. Did you notice this line? "One in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness." One in 17. Think about that for a minute. Do you know 17 people? Then odds are someone you know lives with a serious mental illness. Wouldn't you want your friend or loved one to get the help they need? That they deserve?
- Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through "will power" and are not related to a person's "character" or intelligence. Mental illness falls along a continuum of severity. Even though mental illness is widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion-about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans-who live with a serious mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that One in four adults-approximately 57.7 million Americans-experience a mental health disorder in a given year
- The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers.
- The World Health Organization has reported that four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the US and other developed countries are mental disorders. By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.
- Mental illness usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.
- Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives; The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
- 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.
- With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.
- Early identification and treatment is of vital importance; By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.
- Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.
Some resources for support or information:
Dept of Veteran Affairs
Other mental health resources