Mental illness has been with us since the beginning of time. This time, in the 21st century, when those in positions to allocate sufficient funding for the mentally ill vote against doing so, it speaks volumes for their priorities and their lack of humanity.
Read a daily newspaper, listen to the radio or watch television, and you can’t help but realize the crisis we are facing. The epidemic includes the incredible increase in teen suicides, the numbers of untreated patients who are incarcerated, and the growing numbers of vulnerable young adults being suckered into all sorts of terrorist allegiances.
With insufficient funding to care for our war heroes suffering from P.T.S.D., with our school-aged children not being diagnosed when symptoms are evident, and with millions of adults fallen on hard times in need of psychological and social support, we must ask ourselves if we have made significant progress in helping to heal the emotionally wounded among us.
In a series of articles in USA Today over the past two years, “The Cost of Not Caring” for the mentally ill, in particular, has been looked at through many lenses. In the end, the facts revealed and the implications of the findings are staggering.
One has to ask if the Senate’s most recent proposal to cut $159,000,000 from Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is the reflection of a moral compass that speaks to our deepest values? Or does it, instead, represent a society that’s burying it’s head in the sand, opting instead to allocate funds for nuclear arms and warring nations at the expense of personal wars often being fought by brave but helpless Americans whose cries for help are going unheeded? If those in need of care are not made a priority – and of the 61.5 million adults diagnosed with having a mental illness (a number released by the National Association of Mental Illnesses) and more than 60% having not received treatment citing cuts in the U.S. Healthcare System as the reason – is there any chance for them to ever become healthy, functioning, contributing members of society? Or, in the end, is not the very soul of our nation diminished?
What is as disturbing is that scientific progress has been made with regard to our understanding of the brain. The discovery of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications has definitely increased treatment options since the 40s and 50s when I grew up witnessing my mentally ill mother whose “breaks” with reality were only treated with barbaric SHOCK treatments. Their effects rattled me to my core. It therefore pains me deeply to know that stigma, misinformation and a lack of funding for further research and available resources for those in need only continue to perpetuate dysfunction in families affected by the illness of a loved one for whom proper treatment can’t be found or when found can’t be afforded.
In addition, psychiatry itself is facing its own need for self-examination, which makes funding for research that much more imperative. In the July 19th edition of the NY Times Sunday Review, several letters to the Editor were in response to Dr. Richard A. Friedman’s comments in which he claims that leaders in the field are turning their backs on psychotherapy. He concludes that, “psychotherapy has shown in scores of well-controlled clinical trials to be as effective as psychotropic medications for very common psychiatric illnesses which count for more burden from disability worldwide than any other illness including heart disease and cancer. Treatment of brain disorders with either medication or psychotherapy can change the brain, and often both are needed.”
Clearly, in a world addicted to the “quick fix,” what needs further exploration is the balance that will best help most patients. I would never argue the necessity for medication to quiet the nerves and allow one to function better, but when medication is prescribed it needs to be monitored and can’t be left for the patient –as is too often the case – to decide how effective it is or even if it is the correct medication.
When internists or when psychiatrists themselves prescribe them but don’t recommend that patients talk with a skilled psychotherapist, I don’t believe that’s proper treatment. Words DO matter. Talk therapy for anyone who has been traumatized is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Psychic scars are only healed when patients are able to communicate their story and gain validation in a trusting relationship with a person trained to know how best to relieve their anxiety and fears, no matter what the circumstance of their trauma.
I’m here to testify that gaining the help of talk-therapy allowed me to move through and beyond the wounds of trauma. That is something that medication alone can never do. I know this to be true not only for myself but for the countless patients whom I’ve treated in more than 30 years of practice.
With so much stress in today’s world, we cannot afford to bury our heads. The cost of doing so will ultimately destroy even the healthy and the strong . . . and what then?
Linda Appleman Shapiro
*Please leave comments/resources that you know about that may help others who are struggling with the mental illness of a family member. If you have questions about how best to deal with your own emotional issues, please find the courage to leave comments here and I or one my readers will offer you our best advice.