Mental illness isn’t a character flaw – let’s stop treating it like one: Thomas P. Murt

MENTAL HEALTH ART.jpg

As the chairman of the House Human Service Committee’s Mental Health Subcommittee, I recently chaired a hearing that explored issues relating to mental illness.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy testified and provided some excellent information to our committee.

Mental illness across the United States and our Commonwealth is quite common amongst our families, loved ones, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Some people who suffer from a mental illness may be candid and upfront about their illness, but it is more common for people who suffer from a mental illness, to attempt to conceal it out of fear of discrimination or from the shame of stigma.

Fewer than half of the people suffering from a mental illness seek treatment, and those who do – understandably keep it strictly confidential.

Reliable reports state that 25 percent of all Americans live their lives with a mental health challenge of some magnitude.  Mental illness is so common that it is the second leading cause of disability after heart disease and is the second leading cause of absenteeism in workplaces across America.

Mental illness is not a character flaw, a personal failing, or a private shortcoming.

Mental illness affects 57.7 million Americans and even more when we consider the families who are impacted in caring for a loved one who is dealing with a mental health challenge.

Mental illness is not a character flaw, a personal failing, or a private shortcoming.

Like arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, mental illnesses are usually biologically-based disorders and may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination.  For some, a mental illness can be a lifelong struggle.

However, proper treatment enables many people with a mental illness to lead fulfilling, accomplished, happy, and productive lives – both personally and professionally.

Mental illness affects people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and income levels.

One of the cruelest manifestations of mental health is the stigma that often accompanies it.

The stigma of having a mental illness or having a mental illness in your family can be very powerful.

Stigmatization can result in feelings of shame for a person suffering from a mental illness or for their family.

This stigma unfairly causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control and prevents many from seeking the help they need.

Acceptance of certain things has increased greatly over the past several years, but this acceptance has not yet been fully extended to individuals with mental illnesses.  Perhaps this stigma surrounds mental illness because mental illnesses are not visible and we can’t see them in a concrete way.

The stigmatization of people with a mental illness also occurs because mental illnesses are usually manifested through behaviors, and a common misconception is that everyone is able to control how they behave, think and feel.

Our nation has made great advances in better understanding those who suffer from a mental illness.  Thankfully, we have much greater compassion and understanding when it comes to the stigma associated with mental illness than we did years ago, but we have not completed our work yet.  We have to do a better job and continue to educate our society and families about mental illness, and the need to have empathy for those who suffer.

There is much we can do to reduce the stigmatization of mental illness.

These actions can include rethinking the incarceration of those who live with mental illness.

Many people with a mental illness have committed criminal acts, but the true nexus of their criminal behaviors is their mental illness.  This population includes many combat veterans who have served our nation with great distinction in the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The Department of Justice tells us that upwards of 10 percent of the inmates in the United States have serious mental challenges.

The de-stigmatization should include open and candid talk about mental health within our families and mental illness need not be a painful family secret.

Finally, our society must insist on equal medical treatment of people with mental illness or parity.

Mental illness is unlike a physical illness in that it cannot always be treated successfully with a single course of a medication.

Sometimes it takes years of therapy to simply discern what exactly the diagnosis is for a patient.

Of course such prolonged treatments are not the genre of claims that insurance companies favorably accept and pay.

Reforms in the insurance laws must be made as well and I have made proposals in this regard.

By PennLive Op-Ed  on June 02, 2016 at 2:00 PM, updated June 02, 2016 at 7:17 PM

By Thomas P. Murt

State Rep. Thomas P. Murt, a Republican, represents the Montgomery County-based 152nd House District.