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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Helping those with mental illness

Published: April 26, 2013
Section: Opinions

The objective of psychiatric institutions in the United States has changed dramatically during the last half-century due to overcrowding, economic burdens and human rights. This has had both positive and negative consequences on the mentally ill. I was recently able to experience the atmosphere of a psychiatric hospital as a patient and began to see mental health in a different light.

The current mission of psychiatric hospital facilities is to stabilize patients so that they can be quickly discharged. The norm has come as a result of multiple waves of deinstitutionalization in America. Deinstitutionalization has occurred as a result of overcrowding in psychiatric facilities and the associated economic woes that plague private individuals and taxpayers who have to pay for the 24-hour treatment. This practice allows many of those who would have previously been committed to a hospital to live independently or in a cooperative environment.

A significant number of people who would have otherwise received intensive treatment are not able to live on their own. The number of individuals utilizing in-patient treatment is less than one-fifth of what it was in 1965. Many of the more severely affected individuals alternate between incarceration, often for non-violent crimes, and homelessness. A recent study found that one-third of the homeless suffer from either schizophrenia or manic-depressive disorder. There are more people who are homeless and suffering from mental illness than there are patients in hospitals receiving psychiatric care. While mental illnesses can often go undiagnosed and untreated, it can plague many people’s lives for years. The World Health Organization found that mental illnesses are the leading causes of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) worldwide, accounting for 37 percent of the years lost to non-communicable diseases. The financial impact is just as weighty, accounting for $57.5 billion from mental health care and loss of income for patients.

While it is not good to detain people who are able to live on their own, it is also not good to be careless or refuse help to those who are in desperate need of it. Mental illness can be debilitating, and like other ailments, mental illness affects all types of people indiscriminately. Age, education, profession, religion and income do not affect one’s susceptibility to mental illness. A common misconception is that mental illnesses, especially the two most prevalent—generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder—are based on one’s life circumstances. Mental illness is not based on how successful or put together one’s life seems to be, but can depend on how one naturally thinks. Someone can be wealthy, successful and have a loving family but still be depressed while others could be alone and have professional and financial difficulties but be mentally well.

A mental illness can be as incapacitating as any physical or biologically-based disease. It can become a constant pain in all situations, interfering with daily decisions and activities.

Much of the public has a skewed or disapproving view of those with mental illness, even if they are not overtly aware of it, which prevents many individuals from seeking help and being comfortable with themselves. Instead of being talked about as a taboo, mental illness should be discussed with honesty and transparency so that it can be dealt with effectively and directly. It should not need to be hidden or silenced. Brandeis’ motto, “Truth even unto its innermost parts,” applies to the law as well as to the individual. I do not mean to criticize the public attitude toward mental illness but instead to attempt to increase support for those who suffer from mental illness.

In recent decades, sexuality has become a more open, honest and exposed topic that has led more individuals feeling comfortable enough to be who they were and are meant to be. Mental illness should be discussed in a similar way. I encourage those with mental illness—no matter the severity—to seek help from either off-campus professionals or the Psychological Counseling Center. I also want to see students encourage friends who may be dealing with mental illness to seek professional help. You never know what kind of struggles others are going through. For those who have dealt, are dealing with or will be dealing with mental illness, there is a fellow Brandeisian who understands what it is like.