Bring Mental Illness Out of the Closet

What is mental illness? “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” ( This definition is what the American Psychiatric Association declares.

But mental illness has yet to gain full acceptance among the general population and, of course, insurance companies. People fear going to see a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker because to the stigma attached. That is the thinking, but it is incorrect, and I will speak on it a bit later.

I suffered from depression for most of my childhood and adult life. Several times I had to be hospitalized because of it. This, of course, allows me insight into the disease. I venture to say that every person on earth has at one time or another suffered from mental illness. Many have not recognized it as such because they fully recovered in reasonable time.

When the words “mental illness” are proffered, people tend to go to the extreme and think the suffering person likely is schizophrenic or psychotic. But in truth, most mental illnesses are a much more benign form. Chief among these is depression. I think everyone struggles with a bout of depression at some point in their life, sometimes caused by death of a parent or friend, extraordinary stress in the work environment, or financial problems. These sorts of depression can be easily dealt with by short term therapy. And many times, without the necessity of medication.
But when depression causes a person to stop doing normal things for a long term, months, it is likely that the person will need a heavy dose of psycho-therapy combined with medication. Such depressions present in women after birth, post-partum depression, after the death of a child, after rape, incest, attack on the person’s life and so forth. And as funny as it may sound to hear, these depressions are rather normal reactions to traumas. Be assured, the road to recovery from these situations varies but is quite frequently long-term.

Then there are two psychiatric illness which most of the public fails to recognize as such: alcoholism and drug addiction. These diseases, however, are the outward manifestation of more serious illnesses. People frequently use alcohol to get rid of the fear they have when entering either a very stressful situation or a social situation. Alcohol does the job, quite well too. And since it works, the person uses it more and more both for the original reasons and then for other reasons their mind says that alcohol would be useful. This is generally referred to as self-medication. The problem, of course, it that the individual is failing to deal with the root problem. And by not dealing with those problems they, like most other illnesses, only get worse and require more “medication.” The person finally gets to the point when he is using alcohol daily because it makes him feel good, until is doesn’t. The, “until is doesn’t” happens when the person gets fired from a job, loses a spouse, becomes overwhelmingly in debt, and many other situations. It is basically the same for the drug addict.

It is important to recognize that these are not bad people who need to get good but are sick people who need to get well. But where? A person is declared in need of a detox but when the advocate, usually the person’s physician, calls around looking for a bed is such a facility they find there are no beds to be had. There, of course, are the detoxes where a person has to pay but most people cannot afford the out of pocket expense.
Alcoholics and addicts need a minimum of 90 days in a detox, but most detoxes push these people out after two weeks. Some, state run facilities, allow for longer stays. At the heart of these problems is the insurance companies which refuse to pay for more than a 2 week stay. The likelihood of a person staying clean and sober after a two-week stay is near zero.

There is a common theme here. Every one of the various types of mental illnesses I have brought up, the person involved has a feeling of not being worthy, feeling useless, of having something deep within themselves which feels so horrible that they feel shameful and cannot find it within themselves to share their deep dark secrets. And in the end, it is one of these deep dark secrets, their demons, that turns the person either suicidal or alcohol and/or drug dependent.

The bottom line is that we are doing a horrible job in helping these people. We must remove the stigmatism attached to mental illness. We must get all insurance companies to treat mental illness the same way they would treat any other illness. We must insure that there are sufficient facilities to deal with those who sick and suffering.