21 Jun The Silent Killer
Imagine that your child is severely ill, and you have no idea what her diagnosis is. Consider the anxiety, frustration, and helplessness that you would feel day after day trying to figure out what is the matter. What might it feel like to have all your friends and family misunderstand and judge your child’s misbehavior as a result of your bad parenting, when in fact, the behavior is rooted in her illness?
There are thousands of people that struggle with a child, spouse, or another loved one diagnosed with a mental illness. These families face numerous years, which are emotionally and financially strenuous, of intensive treatment for their loved ones. Not only do many not have the education and financial resources available to help them, but they also are condemned and shamed when they attribute such struggles to mental illness.
Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States
On average, mental illness affects more than 45,000 U.S. citizens annually1. This number does not even include all those who suffer with mental illness off record and children who are under the age of 18. The National Health Center for Statistics reported suicide as the 10th leading cause for death in the United States2. Based on these statistics, envision how many families deal directly with the struggle of mental illness, even to the point of losing a loved one to suicide.
Misconceptions on Mental Illness and Effects on the Family
The Merriam–Webster Dictionary defined the word illness as “an unhealthy condition of the body or mind” (emphasis added)3. However, since mental illness is psychological in nature, it is not as easily recognized as a physical illness. This cultural taboo is often considered to be mythological in nature, more about personal choice in behavior than a physiological illness. For example, diabetes has distinctive evident traits, while depression does not have significant obvious attributes. Generally, it is forgotten that mental illness is rooted in the human brain, which is a physical organ4. This common misunderstanding is often exasperated in the media. These methods use popular “self-help” books with no scientific background, and films that generalize being “depressed” as someone who is just lazy or upset after a relationship break-up.
These misconceptions pose a dilemma for those individuals struggling with mental illness and their families. They are not receiving the support and guidance they need. Programs concerning mental illness face often face decreased funding leaving more individuals and families to go it alone5.
For example, there are many myths about mental illnesses, such as depression. Many consider it to be a current manifestation of people being lazy and selfish. This implies that depression is not a physiological illness. Therefore, it seems logical that funding should be cut from programs that are just aiding people in their personal issues. However, there is much to be clarified about the current research6. If this research was better taught and understood, this would greatly impact people and congress’ attention to aid in the relief for those families.
Mental Illness impacts Communities.
When programs that assist those with mental illness are cut, the cost to the tax payer just gets pushed into a different venue. A high percentage of inmates recorded in state and federal prisons have been diagnosed with serious mental illness. In one of many studies seeking the prevalence of mental illness in the criminal system, it was estimated that two million women were diagnosed with at least one mental illness of the annual seven million reported inmates10. Also, homelessness has been found to be related to those with severe mental illness11. Last year, 65% of homeless people in particular government programs were diagnosed with mental illnesses12.
These prisons and jails are funded mostly by tax dollars. Consider the potential increase of homelessness and crime that will need increased funding for criminal justice with a decrease in program prevention for the severely mentally ill. “‘When we’re not providing services to help people stay in a community, they end up not staying in the community. They end up in inpatient units,” said Wysocki, of Juniata Valley Behavioral and Developmental Services. “And the reality is those services end up costing taxpayers a lot more money. You’re making cuts here, but in the long run, it’s going to cost much more”’13.
How to Get Educated and Take Action
There is also a plethora of research, public awareness, and grant funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). There are also specific grants that are funded to aid public schools in parental and individual education regarding mental illness. The CMHS has programs that work specifically to educate law enforcement on the nature of mental illness so there can be increased intervention for those offenders that have broken the law under prevailing circumstances of mental illness. Also, the Projects to Assist in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program works with transitioning homeless individuals into a functioning lifestyle.
Lastly, the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is an organization with many sources for people dealing with mental illness and their families. Also, this organization works to educate on a government level for change.
Even if you are not personally suffering from depression, a loved one, neighbor, politician, friend, church member, schoolmate, co-worker or stranger is. No one deserves to go through this battle alone. Everyone deserves a lifting hand to pick him or her up and tell him or her, “You are not alone, and you can be helped.”
1. 1. SAMHSA (2008). National Survey on Drug Use and Health Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (formerly the Office of Applied Studies). SAMHSA Retrieved from
2. 2. Heron, M. (2012). Deaths: Leading Causes for 2008. National Vital Statistics Reports, 60(6). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k12/NSDUH119/SR119SuicideByMSA2012.htm#footnote
3. 3. Illness. (2012). In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/illness
4. 4. Kalat, J. W. (2009). Biological psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
5. 5. SAMHSA, (2008). National Survey on Drug Use and Health Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (formerly the Office of Applied Studies). Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm?ContentFileID=147768
6. 6. Weiss, J. M., & Simpson. P.G. (1985). Neurochemical basis of stress-induced depression. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 21, 447-457.
7. 7. Glover, R. W., Miller, J.E., & Sadowski, S. R. (2012). Proceedings on the State Budget Crisis and the Behavioral Health Treatment Gap: The Impact on Public Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Systems. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Director. Retrieved from http://www.nasmhpd.org/docs/SummaryCongressional%20Briefing_March%2022_Website.pdf
8. Bowser, B.A., & Winerman, L. (2011). State Budget Cuts Slash Mental Health Funding. PBS Newshour. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2011/01/state-budget-cuts-slash-mental-health-funding.html
10.10. Steadman, H. J., et al (2009). Prevalence of serious mental illness among jail inmates. Psychiatric Services, 60(6)
11.11. National Coalition for the Homeless (2009). Mental Illness and homelessness. Retrieved from http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf
12. 12. PATH, (2012). Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness: 2011 National Profile. Retrieved from http://pathprogram.samhsa.gov/Path/Reports09/ViewReports.aspx?sId=national&rYear=2011&rpts=NationalProfile
13. 13. Lippman, D. (2011). State Mental Health Cuts Hit Low-Income Patients Hard. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/19/state-mental-health-cuts_n_1897769.html
Emily Barney is a senior at Brigham Young University Idaho studying Marriage and Family studies with a clinical emphasis and hopes to be able to personally help families as a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in addiction and recovery.
Micah Brock is a senior at Brigham Young University Idaho studying Psychology with a Minor in Marriage and Family. She would like to continue onto graduate school to further her education with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, specializing in family dynamics.