Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Get serious about mental health


   Americans have been blissfully unaware of the later-in-life mental struggles of football players we have watched compete on weekends.
    High-profile suicides of stars like Junior Seau and lawsuits against the National Football League have forced the beginnings of conversations about football’s mental-health consequences and produced promises about trying harder to prevent future injuries. However, there have been few specifics about providing treatment for those in the grip of mental illness today.
    Theaters of war over the past decade have spewed out thousands of veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injuries. They and their families will need treatment and support for decades.
    Pedestrians on the streets of any big American city are regularly confronted by men and women pushing shopping carts or holding up cardboard signs.
    A closer look reveals well-groomed people sporting fashionable accessories and mumbling to themselves. Their expressions go from blank to smiling to collapsing with sadness and then to blank again as the cycle of mental illness starts over.
    For too long, mental illness has been a burden faced by individuals and families but has not been an issue for the rest of us. Other kinds of illness are covered by insurance. Hospitals and doctors are readily available for the broken legs, heart attacks or knee replacements everyone can see and everyone knows need treatment. It’s not so for brain injuries and illnesses.
    The latest mass shooting should remind us that we are living with a false sense of security. The man who killed 12 people Sept. 16 at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., clearly had mental-health issues. So did the men who shot little children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, movie patrons in Colorado, and a U.S. congresswoman in Arizona.
    Good men and women with guns aren’t the cure for untreated mental illness. Guards at the gates of the Navy Yard and at least some of the people walking around the grounds were well-armed and highly trained. Fort Hood, Texas, where an Army psychiatrist killed 13 in 2009, was full of soldiers. The armed good guys couldn’t stop the violence of disturbed minds.
    As with any injury or disease, treating mental illness will be expensive, complex and frustrating, but ultimately beneficial. The Affordable Health Care Act includes significant provisions for improving mental health care.
    It’s time to stop denying and delaying, and to accept mental illness as a critical issue for all of us.




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