While these stories garner much of our attention, the issue of mental health isn't always such a dramatic or media-saturated event. After a decade of war, more American vets are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – not a new diagnosis, but a better understanding of something which has been seen in combat-weary soldiers since at least the First World War. Substance abuse and other forms of addiction put people in harms way every day.
In 2008, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 13.8% of the U.S. population sought in-patient, outpatient or medicinal treatment for mental illness. And there are many others who do not seek help for mental or emotional issues: The Centers for Disease Control estimates that only 17% of the U.S. population is living in a state of optimal mental health. It's a shocking statistic, but with the leading mental health diagnosis of depression afflicting about 26% of the population, it starts to put it into perspective.
But there remains a stigma around seeking mental illness. It didn't help that mental illness was originally treated through what can only be described as barbaric methods – electroshock therapy being among the most notorious – but pharmacology and the growth and progress of psychotherapy has made treatment – and outcomes – a more accessible journey for many. I won't say less painful, because deep psychotherapy can be emotionally difficult and mentally draining. And for some people this is still difficult.
The stigma exists, and more so in the population most in need, hindering the help they need. A CDC report found that 57% of adults believe that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental health – an unfortunately low number – but among people afflicted by mental illness, only 25% of them believed people are caring and sympathetic to people with a mental health issue.
Psychotherapy has matured since its beginnings and is much more focused on building relationships with clients – something that requires respect and empathy – to help bring about the change clients are seeking.
Improving the mental health treatment experience got a federal jolt in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy called on Congress to help improve diagnosis, treatment, education and recovery for those afflicted. It was a bold request, but fell by the wayside as states cut funding and services as the decades wore on and the issue got forgotten about. The Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama in 2012, expands coverage of mental health services to match that of other physical ailments.
The option of health insurance covering psychotherapy may mean putting the costs of mental health within reach for millions more people, another attack on the stigma of mental health, especially since some of the more debilitating diagnoses - schizophrenia, bipolar and personality disorders - tend to hit during the early 20s, when young adults are going through college, beginning a new career and starting to make a life for themselves.