The day after the Sandy Hook massacre, a relative of mine made an off-hand remark that pushed all of this psych major’s buttons. “If they would just keep the crazy people locked up, terrible things like this would not happen,” she insisted. Mind you, this relative is reasonably educated and not prone to off-the-wall comments, so to me, this incident signified the pervasive public opinion on mental health issues.
How can we combat the stigma?
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who suffers from serious mental health issues who has not come up against stigma. Unfortunately, these days Adam Lanza has become the face of mental illness.
I wish we would engage in a well-informed, mediated national dialogue about these issues. Before entering the discussion, people need to check their prejudice. Check it at the door, with yo coat. Seriously, do it now! Keep doing it. Again. And again. (This process never really ends, does it?)
Sloppy, judgmental mental health talk would exacerbate the problems. First off, we should debunk the tenuous link between mental illness and homicide that the media has promoted. The mentally ill do not always lash out with violence. Oftentimes, they themselves are the victims of homicide. Second, on the side of the “nurture” argument, we should also be careful where we are assigning blame. I have seen some fingers pointed at his mother. This sounds like a throw-back to the days of the “refrigerator mom,” when, prior to the diagnosis of autism, mothers were blamed for being cold, unfeeling, and thereby socially stunting their children.
Are we doing all we can as a society to make sure that people get the help that they need?
Sometimes I take a look at our frayed mental healthcare system and wonder how we could possibly meet the needs of the ~26.2 percent of Americans who struggle with mental illnesses each year (NIHM, 2012). There are so many barriers to psychiatric care. Lack of insurance coverage for non-drug treatments, such as talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. The consequential over-reliance on prescription drugs. Shortage of psychiatrists in underserved areas. The grim reality that in this country, healthcare is not a service. It is a business, with insurance companies, hospitals, and community clinics all boiling down to profit-making enterprises.
The American healthcare system is based on a disease model. We are treating the symptoms, not preventing them from rearing their ugly heads in the first place. Perhaps we should switch gears and focus more on preventative care, giving children and adolescents access to the services they need before it is too late.
How does the Human Connectome and BAM fit into all of this?
My hope is that these new advances in neurotechnology will allow us to catch neuropathology at an earlier age and allow us to develop effective treatments. In addition to disease prevention, perhaps these findings will also help facilitate a cultural overhaul. Perhaps by showing others that autism, depression, schizophrenia, and other mental issues stem from connectopathies – neurological miswirings, not a lack of motivation, need to exercise more, sloppiness reading your Bible – we can destigmatize mental illness and sweep it out from under the rug. That way people will be able to come forward and ask for the help they need. Perhaps one day we can tune-up our brains the way we’d tune-up an incorrectly wired radio! I’m optimistic.
Dismounting from my soapbox,
(2012, May). The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved Feb 26, 2013 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml.