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Our Unhealthy View of Mental Illness

January 8, 2019
By Anesa McGregor , Emmetsburg News

Mental health. These two little words will cause people to cast judgment or simply turn away. It is the ultimate stigma in the world today. Society spends more time pretending mental illness does not exist that it does trying to understand it.

This isn't an easy task knowing how many people suffer from some form of mental illness. More than 25 percent (57.5 million adults) in the United States experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Unfortunately, only about 367 percent seek and receive treatment.

What's more, of kids 13 to 18 years old, more than 46 percent of them currently have or have experienced a mental disorder and only 36 percent have received any kind of treatment.

Why is our view of mental illness so unhealthy? Why do those two small words strike fear into even the strongest person?

The answers really go back to the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who categorized mental illness as a religious punishment or demonic possession. Hippocrates tried to change how the mentally ill were treated. He focused on changing the environment and administering certain medications.

During the Middle Ages, the mentally ill were believed once again to be possessed or in need of religion. People would cross the street so they would not have to look at someone with mental illness. They might even be called witches and burnt at the stake. The negative viewpoints many looked at mental illness with traveled across the ocean with the pilgrims and these attitudes persisted into the 18th century in the United States. This is in turn has left us with a stigmatized view of mental illness and at certain times in our history the filthy and degrading confinement of mentally ill persons.

In the mid to late 1800s and even into the 1900s, institutionalization was considered the most effective means to care for the mentally ill. Families welcomed this form of treatment and so did communities. It became the responsibility of someone else to care for the mentally ill.

As our world has advanced, one would think attitudes and the old ways of thinking would be replaced by understanding and a dedication to help those who struggle on a day-to-day basis. It is not easy for those who suffer nor is it easy for the loved ones who watch in silence wondering what to do.

In 1946, President Harry Truman passed the National Mental Health Act, which created the National Institute of Mental Health and earmarked government funds specifically for researchs into the causes and treatments for mental illness. In 1979 the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill was created to provide support, education and researchs to helply people who struggle with this everyday.

These programs were all created in good faith and had a specific goal in mind, but somewhere along the line, our government decided mental health was not a good program to be putting money into. It was left up to states and local governments to deal with the matter of mental health treatment and the enormous costs associated with it.

Soon this model was eating up too much money and the counties were told to get rid of the mental health advocate and form regional mental health districts. There would be no more federal money so to speak but you still must provide access to mental healthcare and find the money to cover it.

This only makes people look at someone with mental health issues in a bad way. Mainly it's because like the rest of the country, they don't have enough money to afford the care needed to live as close to a normal life as possible.

Our government should consider this the next time they talk about cutting the mental health funding to counties.

Mental illness is not contagious. You can't get it by lending a sympathetic ear. Take the time to learn more about mental illness to your are properly informed and able to understand.



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