Very common but often goes untreated
Karen Miller | 9/17/2015, 1:09 p.m.
The general public's perception of mental illness is more often influenced by its portrayal in the movies than by fact. In reality you sit beside people with mental health disorders on the bus and you work with them. Just as you cannot detect who has diabetes or high blood pressure, for the most part, you cannot detect who has a mental illness.
That’s because when diagnosed many mental health conditions can be successfully treated.
Mental illness carries an air of mystery. That’s understandable. It’s a disease of the brain, which is a complex, sophisticated organ that controls almost every aspect of the human body. The brain not only enables us to think, remember and breathe but it also controls our emotions and behavior. It makes up only two percent of our body weight but consumes 20 percent of the energy we use — it is constantly working. President Barack Obama in 2013 developed The Brain Initiative to help solve and understand its mysteries.
Sometimes the communication system in the brain goes a little awry. Chemicals called neurotransmitters may not function as well as they should and prevent messages from getting through. It is this malfunction that can lead to certain forms of mental illnesses. For instance, as noted by the National Institute of Mental Health, low amounts of the chemical serotonin can lead to depression; an inadequate supply of glutamate, the most common neurotransmitter, is linked to depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. Medications help restore the balance.
Mental disorders can also result from trauma or other environmental stimuli. Some disorders are genetically linked, particularly schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.
When mental health symptoms interfere with daily living it’s advisable to talk with your primary care physician. Chances are they won’t subside on their own. Symptoms vary by the disorder, but Dr. Morgan Medlock, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, explained that there are some tell-tale signs regardless of the exact illness. “There’s a social aspect of mental instability,” she said. “A person may no longer interact at school or church and becomes withdrawn. If a person’s social functioning changes, that’s a strong indicator.”
The economic impact of mental illness is huge. The April 2015 Medical Expenditure Survey noted that at $51.1 billion, mental disorders were the third most costly medical expenditures for adults between 18 and 64 in the U.S. in 2012.They trailed only traumatic-related disorders and cancer. Almost half the expenditures were due to prescribed medications.
These figures correspond to the volume of patients. Approximately 45 million or almost 20 percent of U.S. adults experience a mental illness in a given year, as noted by the National Association of Mental Illness, or NAMI. In comparison only 14 million people are living with cancer and 29 million have diabetes.
Yet, as common as these illnesses are, nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness fail to receive treatment in a given year. For many reasons. One is lack of availability of mental health services and providers. A report published by Mental Health America — Parity or Disparity: The State of Mental Health in America 2015 — showed a wide difference among states in prevalence of mental illness as well as access to care. For instance, while Massachusetts has one mental health provider for every 248 residents, Alabama has one provider for every 1,827 residents.