Untreated Illness

His life’s calling was public service. But when the economy would not support his ambitions, he became very troubled. His personal life grew worse when he broke off his engagement. His professional life was not better, and he found himself with virtually no money. His one true friend had to return home to care for his parents.

He fell into a depression, and told his business partner: “To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or do better, it appears to me.” He remained in bed and did not eat or sleep. His speech was incoherent. Doctors felt that he was close to ending his spiral of mental illness.

If Abraham Lincoln we’re not so resilient, his life would have ended soon after. Just imagine where our country would be today if Lincoln did not have the determination to overcome his depression. Unfortunately, we have lost the contributions of many of our citizens who were not as determined as Lincoln.

We now know how to treat many forms of mental illness, but a majority of Americans do not seek treatment. In some cases, the stigma of being mentally ill is the reason for denying treatment. But the principal reason is cost. Insurance coverage for mental health is more limited than it is for physical illness. Even when people have insurance coverage they are afraid of admitting they are mentally ill.

Mental health generally takes longer to treat. Insurers discourage the use of mental health services with high copays as well as coverage limits. As a result, over half of the people with mental health issues do not seek treatment. Approximately 20% of American adults will have a mental health issue in any given year. Over their lifetime, 46% of Americans will have a mental health condition.

How many Abraham Lincoln’s are we losing for untreated mental health? In many aspects, mental health remains the “hidden disease”. While legislation has been proposed to bring mental health treatment in parity with physical health treatment, mental health still lags in support.

Just imagine why we accept such limited support for medical conditions that will affect nearly half of the American population over their lifetime? What role should government play in assuring treatment for those facing mental health conditions? Just imagine the talent our country is losing due to mental health conditions? Just imagine what it might take for all of us to become more supportive and sympathetic to those with mental health issues? 

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“I am bent, but not broken. I am scarred, but not disfigured. I am sad, but not hopeless. I am tired, but not powerless. I am angry, but not bitter. I am depressed, but not giving up.” – Unknown author

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