Since our previous entry, the Kennedy family lost another member…this time due to mental illness. The granddaughter of Robert and Ethel, Saoirse (pronounced Sir-she) Kennedy Hill died at age 22 of a suspected drug overdose. The young Kennedy had experienced a trauma in middle school and since suffered from depression.  In a 2016 essay for her school newspaper at Deerfield Academy, where she had returned after treatment and a suicide attempt, Saoirse pushed other students to de-stigmatize discussions of mental health.

According to the New York Post, Kennedy Hill basically pointed the finger at the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) – for protecting patient privacy while leaving the ill untreated.

The military often sets standards that become norms for civilians. They set the bar for technology that has now become common practice in everyday activities. For example, the technology that led to the popular camera feature in cell phones has its roots in the military. During World War II, penicillin was used to successfully combat infections in soldiers. Soon after, penicillin was used to cure the first civilian bacterial infections.

One way to de-stigmatized mental health, is for people who are highly respected to lead by example. Again we see the military as a forerunner in this measure. Normalizing the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is one way they contribute. Also since the terror attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 (9/11), esteemed first responders receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress have made therapy publicly acceptable.

When we look into research for additional methods that work, we must include cultural considerations. A study of trauma-informed care for American Indians and Alaska Natives examines the impact of historical trauma on the physical, behavioral and spiritual health of patients and providers. Tribal nations have higher rates of trauma exposure within and across generations, worsened by frequent interpersonal losses and risk for grief and high risk for post-traumatic stress. This suggests that research must be broad and diverse and not seek a one-treatment-fits-all solution.

Work site employee programs that address mental health are becoming more visible making it common practice to seek help, however, pros and cons exist in these programs. For example, employers only offer a restricted amount of coverage for mental health visits, and limit the amount of time off work employees can take to utilize them.

There are treatment resources in place for the mentally ill, but many more options are needed… especially for those with mental illness who are not receiving treatment. Finding the best avenue for helping people with untreated mental illness is not merely an issue for mental health providers. Planning should include representation from the following communities and groups:

  • mental health
  • physical health
  • lawmakers
  • law enforcement
  • drug companies
  • insurance companies
  • companies with Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • fundraising communities
  • patients
  • families
  • educators

The solutions must be broad and diverse and factor in cultural considerations. If these factions work collaboratively, all stand to gain insight and the results can provide training for recognizing mental behavior and treating it accordingly. Normalizing the need for help can make it easier for people to seek help. Research into treatment modalities must also include cultural issues. Drug manufacturers may be helpful in developing or discovering cost-effective meds (even though some medicines for mental disorders cannot be offered in a generic form). That’s when insurance companies can step in with options for affordable coverage including meds and therapy. Fundraising and donations can provide financial assistance for the high cost of treatment. And last but most important are the people who have mental illness and their families. This is actually the starting point. Before we can begin working on a solution, we need an accurate picture of the problem we are trying to fix.

Where are the mentally ill? Everywhere! Who can help the untreated mentally ill? Everyone!

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