As I was reading today about tributes to Robin William's career and personal attributes, I noticed a lot of articles discussing the need to have more of a focus on mental health in the United States, particularly concerning depression. This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with. I think that a great way to raise awareness about mental illness in all of its forms is through the study of Psychology, particularly at the high school level. Over the years I've been amazed at the opinions that my students have had regarding mental illness, especially depression. This is one of the reasons why I try to spend so much time talking about it in class and why we watch The Bridge (a documentary on suicide) even though it brings up intense emotions in my students every semester.
Mental illness, particularly depression, is something that gets shortchanged in American society. 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression (according to the World Health Organization) and approximately 30,000 Americans commit suicide annually. The United States typifies this by only spending 5.6% of our national health care on mental health. It is believed that 18.2% (or 42.5 million) of Americans suffer from mental illness. An estimated 10% of Americans suffer from depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 8.3% Americans suffer from diabetes. Our priorities are clear when looking at money put into research for various diseases and disorders. According to the National Institutes of Health, $422 million was spent on research on depression while over a billion dollars were spent on diabetes research in 2013.
Unlike physical wounds that heal, overcoming depression isn’t as simple as giving it time, Amitay said. And it has nothing to do with strength or willpower – sometimes, people with depression could be dealing with a history of bad treatment, it could be triggered by a major life event, or you could be biologically susceptible.
“It’s a disease – it’s like saying you’re weak because you have cancer,” Amitay said. And these false notions could be what makes victims feel stigmatized and scared to reach out for help, he warned.
What should be done to shine a light on the issues associated with mental illness? I think that a big part of the issue lies in the health insurance industry and providing adequate coverage for treatment. Additionally, more funding needs to go into research. Sadly, I don't have a lot of control over those areas beyond writing my elected representatives. What I can do is encourage my students to study Psychology. Knowledge is power and when there is knowledge there is understanding and empathy. Maybe that knowledge can help you to help yourself or someone else when they need it most.