MENTAL HEALTH: Surgeon General Releases First Report
In his report on mental disorders, Surgeon General David Satcher concluded that millions of America's mentally ill do not seek effective treatment because of the inability to pay for care and the stigma attached to mental illness. The 500-page scientific document reviewed 3,000 academic studies on mental illness and mental health, examined flaws in the mental health system and reviewed scientific research on neurochemical activity (Meckler, Associated Press, 12/13). The report, issued today at the White House, found that one in every five Americans experience a mental disorder each year and half have some disorder at some point in their lives. It found that although 22% of people have a "diagnosable mental disorder," nearly two-thirds never seek care.
Access to Help
Nearly all mental disorders are treatable, the report noted, but many sufferers are unaware that effective therapies exist. A "major theme" of the report is making mental health "part of mainstream health care, not an afterthought or an offshoot" (Pear, New York Times, 12/13). The document said that mental disorders "are not character flaws but are legitimate illnesses that respond to specific treatments. ... Society can no longer afford to view mental health as separate and unequal to general health" (Associated Press, 12/13). The report also recommended expanding mental health services and increasing the number of professionals available to children and adolescents, especially those on Medicaid. The report identified the fear of violence as the primary cause for the "inexcusably outmoded" and "cruel and unfair stigma attached to mental illness." Addressing this issue, it said that there is "very little risk of violence or harm to a stranger from casual contact" (New York Times, 12/13).
Reactions From the Field
Many in the mental health field applauded Satcher's report. Laurie Flynn, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said that "the surgeon general has documented" the national mental health "crisis" (Associated Press, 12/13). National Mental Health Association President Michael Faenza said, "This is a historic day. It's wonderful that we have a surgeon general talking about mental health and mental illness, in a voice that has not been used in Washington before." Calling it a potential "turning point," Faenza warns that the report "could be meaningless, if Congress and state legislators do not have the backbone and the political will to act on it" (New York Times, 12/13). This surgeon general's report is the first of 51 reports in our nation's history to deal with mental health (Associated Press, 12/13).