#India – Mental Health Care Bill cleared by Cabinet


Music and Mental Health

The Union Cabinet  cleared the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 that makes access to mental health care a right of all persons

Submitted on Fri, 06/14/2013 – 16:55

The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared the Mental Health Care Bill, 2013 that makes access to mental health care a right of all persons. Such services should be affordable, of good quality and available without discrimination, it said. The proposed law decriminalises suicide.

The Bill, in consonance with international laws, has the provision of Advance Directives — described as a progressive and far-sighted step. No person who has recorded an Advance Directive to State that he or she should not be admitted to a facility without consent can be so admitted.

A rights-based Bill also has a provision wherein a person with mental illness can appoint a nominated representative to take decisions for him or her. Under the provisions of the Bill, government has an obligation to provide half way homes, community caring centres and other shelters for mentally ill people. This has been planned under the District Mental Health Programme in the 12th Plan.

In 2005, the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health reported that 10-12 million or one to two per cent of the population suffered from severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and nearly 50 million or five per cent from common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, yielding an overall estimate of 6.5 per cent of the population. The prevalence of mental disorders was higher among women, those who were homeless, poor and living in urban areas, Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad told The Hindu.

The new Bill, once approved by Parliament, will repeal the Mental Health Act, 1987, which had vested extraordinary power in the hands of the treating psychiatrists. There was enough evidence of misuse and unscrupulous families collaborating with psychiatrists in addition to badly functional or non-functional Central and Mental Health Authorities primarily because of lack of funds.

Under the proposed new law, there is provision for voluntary admission with supported admission limited to specific circumstances; appeals can be made to the Mental Health Review Commission, which will also review all admission beyond 30 days and free care for all homeless, destitute and poor people suffering from mental disorder. The Bill provides right to confidentiality and protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in addition to right to live in a community and legal aid. It bans the electric-convulsive therapy without anesthesia and restricts psychosurgery, Mr. Azad said.

He said the Bill tries to address the needs of the families and caregivers, and the needs of the homeless mentally ill. It provides for setting up Central and State Mental Health Authorities, which would act as administrative bodies, while the Mental Health Review Commission would be a quasi-judicial body to oversee the functioning of mental health facilities and protect the rights of persons with mental illness in mental health facilities.

Credit and Source: The Hindu

 

Corporates cashing in on mental-health diagnosis


man with head in hands
Are we heading towards a mass-medicated society? Sriram Balla, under a CC License

Are you a disruptive person? Are you occasionally reluctant to part with possessions? Is your child defiant, or prone to temper tantrums? Are you grieving from the death of a close friend? Well, don’t worry; you can get drugs for all of this soon.

On Friday 17 May, the American Psychiatric Association published the fifth edition of its highly influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) – the first major update in 13 years. Although a US manual, DSM has global influence.

And that may not be good news. The new DSM has several new additions, including ‘Oppositional Defiant Disorder’ (when a child repeatedly says ‘No’ and acts defiantly), ‘Major Depressive Disorder’ (the experience of grieving) and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (temper tantrums).

The DSM is put together by panels of experts in psychiatry. But there is evidence that many of them serve as paid spokespeople for pharmaceutical companies, or conduct industry-funded research.

recent study showed that ‘some of the most conflicted panels are those for which drugs represent the first line of treatment, with two-thirds of the mood disorders panel, 83 per cent of the psychotic disorders panel and 100 per cent of the sleep disorders panel disclosing “ties to the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the medications used to treat these disorders or to companies that service the pharmaceutical industry.”’

Angry at the scandal, over 10,000 mental health professionals have signed a letter against DSM-5. Allan Frances, the author of DSM-4 and a psychiatrist with 45 years’ experience, is deeply opposed to the changes.

Stooping this low would not be new for ‘Big Pharma.’ Between 1994 and 2005, large pharmaceutical companies spent over $1.3 billion on lobbying politicians in the US alone. Only last week it was revealed that Western pharmaceutical companies used Communist East Germany for illegal drug trials in state-run hospitals in which several test subjects died. These companies do not have our best interests at heart.

In a world where most people assume that the development of new drugs can only ever be positive, they have the power to mass-medicate our entire society. If they can use their influence to convince you that a state of mind is a mental illness, they can sell you something to make it better.

Taking a pill is no substitute for proper mental-health care. This zenith of corporate control over healthcare pushes us one step closer to a dystopian world of mass medication. As the concerned author of the previous DSM Edition (DSM 4) has pointed out, this attempt to medicalize normal everyday experiences is reminiscent of the ‘Somapills’ from Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World –  a world where the entire population takes drugs.

Permalink | Published on May 21, 2013 by Adam McGibbon 

 

Mumbai- Call HELPLINE 022-24131212 for any Mental Health Issue


100 calls a day, mental health helpline a hit

Bhavika Jain, TNN May 23, 2013,

MUMBAI: Life in fast-paced Mumbai seems to be taking a toll on its citizens. In just four days after the BMC launched its mental health helpline on May 14, as many as 352 calls were received. Currently, the 24-hour helpline is receiving between 85 and 100 calls a day.

According to the initial data, one-third of the calls to the helpline was from people above the age of 50 and they had issues like depression and irritability. The second highest number of calls was from those aged between 30 and 40 , who were facing anxiety and work-related stress.

Experts say the sheer number of calls on the helpline shows that the mental health of the people in the city is falling. People are looking for a medium to vent their thoughts and this helpline aims to do just that.

Additional municipal commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar said the response has been overwhelming. The BMC will have to eventually increase the number of lines connected to the helpline, she said. “We have appointed three counsellors to work in three shifts. We have also instructed them that in case there is a very difficult case, they should suggest to the caller that he/she should take an appointment in KEM Hospital’s psychiatry outpatient department so that he/she can be given a personal counselling session,”said Mhaiskar. She said they are not insisting that the callers give out their names and personal details.

The helpline, launched by the mayor, will be operated by KEM Hospital’s psychiatric department. To call the helpline, dial: 022-24131212.

 

Kurukshetra- Missing Prachi Kumari since 16days Kidnapped and Killed ? #Vaw


prachi
: manavatavadi@lycos.com

The Station House Officer

Ideal Police Station

Kurukshetra University

Geeta Kendra
KURUKSHETRA
 

Subject: OUR SUSPICIONS ABOUT MISSING Prachi Kumari SINCE April 1, 2013

 

Sir,

 

Today is the 16th day of Prachi’s Missing from the University College of Kurukshetra University. With Constant and deep Agony we endorse our suspicions about Prachi Kumari’s missing as under:

 

1.    It is the 13th day of our intimating of the name, address and telephone numbers of the kidnappers but we don’t know what the police has done except dragging us to Delhi for an expensive exercise even after knowing that we maintain our works by collecting Alms (BHIKSHA) from the village peasants.

 

2.    We suspect that either the kidnappers are torturing the girl by keeping her away from the communication system for any of their nefarious intentions or have already killed her. Because our only request to the police, just to let us meet her to see her live also in good physical and mental health was not cared yet. Instead we are being mocked at that she has already married so no need of any inquiry about her.

 

3.    As we are a Secular Education Centre so we have all respect for freedom of thinking and freedom of choice, so if she has married to any one of any caste, color, denomination, socio-economic status, ethnic, race or even any gender we would have no problem in accepting her position or also we have no hesitation in giving her moral and any other support we are capable of. Then we don’t understand why the police are standing reluctant in making our meeting possible, if at all she is not captivated, sold for any nefarious cause or not killed?

 

Would the police prove fair to produce Prachi Kumari for our meeting and satisfaction of her safety and physical and mental health? The kind Principal of the University College and her class mates and the Teachers of the UC Department of Bio-Tech are also worried for she couldn’t appear in her final Practical Examination.

 

Kindly help us to meet her if she is married or chosen a partner to live with and if she is kept captive then kindly rescue her so that she can go back to her school and if she is at all killed by the kidnappers then kindly discover and take the action whatever is appropriate for the police and oblige.

 

In Constant and Deep Agony,

 

Swami Manavatavadi                                                               (April 16, 2013)

Manavatavadi Vishwa Sansthan
Rajghat, Kurukshetra-136118, Haryana
Tel: 01744-291278, FAX: 01744-291378 (ask for line)

 

Press Release- Farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh


Andhra Pradesh – HRF Press Release on farmers suicides in Mahabubnagar district

April 13, 2013

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) demands that the government take immediate steps to ensure that the families of farmers who have committed suicide are duly compensated and rehabilitated as envisaged under GO 421. Our enquiries in Mahabubnagar district revealed that 14 farmers have committed suicide in 2012 in just one mandal i.e Bijinapally. Not a single family of these 14 farmers been compensated under GO 421. In fact, of the total farmers’ suicides of 108 reported in the entire district last year, just one family, that of D Anandam in Jangamaipally village in Ghanpur mandal (he committed suicide on 9-8-2012) been given compensation. This is an appalling state of affairs.

A six-member HRF team visited several villages in Bijinapally and Jadcherla mandals of Mahabubnagar district on Saturday (6-4-2013) to look into instances of farmers’ suicides and governmental response. The team spoke with family members of the deceased, as well as their friends and relatives. In all, we elicited facts concerning six suicides in two villages of Bijinapally mandal and one suicide in a village of Jadcherla mandal. All seven had committed suicide during last year.
All these seven farmers belonged to the small and marginal category who were driven to desperation because they had run up accumulated debts of not less than Rs 2 lakh each due to successive failure of crops, principally of cotton. Since formal credit had all but dried up over the years, their borrowings were mostly at high interest rate from the informal sector of money lenders.

HRF is of the opinion that the families of all seven deceased are eligible for the financial assistance and rehabilitation package evolved as support in such cases under G.O 421. In all these cases it can easily and clearly be established that there was “correlation between farm-related operations, economic distress and social humiliation eventually leading to suicide.”
The GO (G.O.Ms.No.421 Rev DA-II Dept., dated 1/6/2004) provides for financial assistance as an interim relief package to support such families. This assistance is in the form of an ex-gratia of Rs one lakh besides loan settlement up to a sum of Rs.50, 000 as one time settlement to creditors. This relief was intended to help in some small measure in pulling these helpless families out of acute distress.

We have no hesitation in stating that the implementation of G.O 421 in Mahbubnagar district is pathetic. For instance, in Bijinapally mandal, the three-member divisional verification and certification committee (consisting of the RDO, DSP and assistant director of agriculture) had so far not completed the requisite enquiries into these cases as is required under GO 421. In fact, the RDO-led committee has not even visited a single village and spoken with family members or other local residents to ascertain facts of the case. This is truly shocking.

Reports of these suicides have appeared prominently in the local media. In fact, three farmers of Karkonda village in Bijenapally mandal had committed suicide within a span of 12 days (from April 23, 2012 to May 4, 2012. Two of them had taken their own lives on successive days, May 3 and 4). Yet, the three-member divisional level committee has not even visited the village till date. This is insensitive and irresponsible negligence.

In fact, many months have gone by, and in several of these seven cases, over a year has gone by since the farmers committed suicide. Yet, they have not gotten any relief. This delay defeats the very purpose of G.O. 421. Not only is the government doing very little to make farming viable, it has even failed in its minimal duty of providing some succour to those families whose earning members were driven to commit suicide as a result of a severe agrarian crisis.
We urge the Collector to immediately convene a review meeting with all RDOs on the matter of implementation of G.O. 421 and ensure that the three-member divisional committees visit the villages, verifies facts and renders justice to the families of farmers who have committed suicide.

VS Krishna (HRF State general secretary)
Madhu Kagula (HRF Mahabubnagar dist. convenor)

Details of farmers suicides HRF enquired into:

Midde Nagaraju (26) of Karkonda villagew, Bijinepally mandal. Committed suicide on 23-4-2012.
Geddampalli Mallesh (35) of Karkonda village, Bijinepally mandal. Died on 3-5-2012.
Boinpally Krishna Rao (45) of Karkonda village, Bijinepally mandal. Died on 4-5-2012.
Jangam Ramaswamy (32) of Palem village, Bijinepally mandal. Died on 5-3-2012.
Paspula Parsuram Goud (27) of Palem village, Bijinepally mandal. Died on 25-11-2012.
Mekala Pullaiah (48) of Bijinepally. Died on 27-1-2012.
Avancha Anjaneyulu (38) of Nasurullabad village, Jadcherla mandal. Died on 17-9-2012.

 

Kerala Government sanctions 99 new posts in three mental health centres


_

K.P.M. Basheer
5-Apr-2013, The Hindu

KOCHI : The much-neglected mental healthcare sector in the State is likely to get a boost with the Cabinet sanctioning 99 posts of psychiatrists, nurses and supporting staff for the government mental health centres.

The Cabinet on Wednesday okayed creating these posts at Kozhikode, Thrissur and Thiruvananthapuram mental health centres. The posts include five psychiatrists (one senior consultant, two consultants, two junior consultants) one assistant surgeon and ten nurses at each centre. Each centre will also get ten nursing assistants and six Grade II employees.

This is in addition to the recently created posts of two junior consultants and 20 nurses for each centre. This would mean that each of the three mental health centres would get an additional eight doctors and 30 nurses, apart from the supporting staff.

Recommendations
There was widespread criticism that the 2013-14 State Budget had neglected the mental health care sector in spite of urgent measures sought by the Estimates Committee of the Assembly. The committee, headed by V.D. Satheesan, MLA, had called for substantially increasing the medical and paramedical staff at the three mental health centres, better infrastructure and security, a new master plan for their development, and a plan for mental health rehabilitation. It had also recommended decentralisation of mental healthcare with all the district hospitals providing care and the three mental health centres as referral centres.

Mr. Satheesan said a meeting of legislators and policymakers would held in the presence of the Chief Minister next month to address the issues in the mental healthcare sector. The government would be coming out with a mental healthcare policy soon. The infrastructure at the centres would be developed in two stages. Master plans for the buildings, with innovative architecture, would be formulated.

Decision hailed
Welcoming the sanctioning of the new posts, Dr. Jayaprakashan K.P., State general secretary of the Indian Psychiatric Society, told The Hindu that the increase in the staff strength would improve the mental health care in the State. He, however, said infrastructural needs of the three centres should be taken care of urgently, too.

A senior psychiatrist, however, said finding qualified psychiatrists for the new posts was a tough task as there was heavy shortage of psychiatrists in the country.

 

Achieving parity between mental and physical health


Whole-person care: from rhetoric to reality

 

English: An American Lady butterfly against a ...

 

Royal College of Psychiatrists –UK – March 2013

 

Available online PDF [95p.] at: http://bit.ly/YFvjwS 

 

 

 

“…..In our society mental health does not receive the same attention as physical health. People with mental health problems frequently experience stigma and discrimination, not only in the wider community but also from services. This is exemplified in part by lower treatment rates for mental health conditions and an underfunding of mental healthcare relative to the scale and impact of mental health problems….”
Professor Sue Bailey, FRCPsych, OBE President, The Royal College of Psychiatrists

 

 

 

“…..This report should be seen as the first stage of an ongoing process over the next 5–10 years that will deliver parity for mental health and make whole-person care a reality. It builds on the Implementation Framework for the Mental Health Strategy in providing further analysis of why parity does not currently exist, and the actions required to bring it about.

 

A ‘parity approach’ should enable NHS and local authority health and social care services to provide a holistic, ‘whole person’ response to each individual, whatever their needs, and should ensure that all publicly funded services, including those provided by private organisations, give people’s mental health equal status to their physical health needs.

 

Central to this approach is the fact that there is a strong relationship between mental health and physical health, and that this influence works in both directions. Poor mental health is associated with a greater risk of physical health problems, and poor physical health is associated with a greater risk of mental health problems. Mental health affects physical health and viceversa…  “..[AU]

 

 

 

Content:

 

Key recommendations
Introduction

 

Terms of reference and methodology

 

Definition and vision for parity of esteem

 

The funding gap: disparity in funding for mental health

 

The treatment gap: disparity in access to treatment for mental health problems

 

NHS Outcomes Framework Domain 1: Preventing people from dying prematurely

 

NHS Outcomes Framework Domain 2: Enhancing quality of life for people with long-term conditions

 

NHS Outcomes Framework Domain 3: Helping people to recover from episodes of ill health or following injury

 

NHS Outcomes Framework Domain 4: Ensuring that people have a positive experience of care

 

NHS Outcomes Framework Domain 5: Treating and caring for people in a safe environment and protecting them from avoidable harm

 

A life-course approach: early intervention, children and young people and older people

 

Measurement and monitoring of parity: data, research, audit and inspection

 

A cross-government approach to parity

 

Annexe A1. Lester UK Adaptation: Positive Cardiometabolic Health Resource

 

Annexe A2. Programme for implementing the Lester UK Adaptation

 

Annexe B. Summary of recommendations for parity

 

Annexe C. Parity commitments from working group member organisations, Royal Colleges and others

 

References

 

 

 

Forgetfulness is minor neurocognitive disorder says DSM-V #mentalhealth #WTFnews


Eat or surf a lot? You risk being labelled mentally ill

, TNN | Mar 24, 2013, 

Eat or surf a lot? You risk being labelled mentally ill
The latest psychiatry manual will, for the first time, spell out Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, minor neurocognitive disorder (like forgetfulness), binge eating, internet addiction, etc. Each new condition could trigger a mega sale of pills.
MUMBAI: Come May, psychiatrists will acquire a new manual to diagnose mental illnesses. But instead of anticipation, there seems to be an air of trepidation hanging around the fifth installment of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — DSM-V, in short — that is published by the American Psychiatric Association and followed across the world.

Several practitioners are voicing reservations about DSM-V’s new labels. Hinting at a pharmaceuticals-driven manual, a senior psychiatrist said: “It’s about molecules … DSM-Vhas identified so many new conditions that people will be handed out prescriptions more rapidly then before.”

The psychiatry manual will, for the first time, spell out Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, minor neurocognitive disorder (like forgetfulness), binge eating, internet addiction, etc. Each new condition could trigger a mega sale of pills, but the DSM-V team has shrilly denied any connection with the big-buck pharma sector.

Manual key to research

Earlier this week, American psychiatrist Allen Frances, who helped devise the fourth edition of the manual (DSM-IV), lashed out against the new installment in the British Medical Journal. “It risks mislabelling a sizeable number of population as mentally ill,” Frances wrote.

He is disturbed about a new introduction called ‘somatic symptom disorder’ that will need only one bodily symptom distressing or disrupting daily life for about six months. “This new category will extend the scope of mental disorder classification by eliminating the requirement that somatic symptoms must be medically unexplained,” he wrote. In a field trial study to check for somatic symptom disorder, the results included 15% of patients with cancer or heart disease and 26% with irritable bowel syndrome or fibromyalgia. “The rate of psychiatric disorder among medically ill patients is unknown, but these rates seem high,” added Frances.

Doctors in India are not too supportive of the somatic symptom disorder. “One symptom cannot be used to diagnose a mental condition,” said Dr Shubhangi Parkar, who heads KEM Hospital’s psychiatry department. “In India, we need to take into account the patient’s body language, our social milieu and families before making a diagnosis,” she said.

Dr Rochelle Suri, a counsellor, said she is not a big fan of DSM-V because it is too generalized. “Just because someone has a few of the symptoms doesn’t mean they have the illness,” she said. Dr Harish Shetty from L H Hiranandani Hospital said: “Treatment modalities should focus on the narratives of life and not on presentation of symptoms alone. A clear diagnosis should be viewed as a trailer and not the movie that needs treatment.”

How important is DSM-V in the Indian context? Parkar said: “DSM-V is important because care has been taken to ensure that cultural context is considered in diagnosis.” In fact, the Indian Psychiatric Society set up a task force to discuss DSM-V and send its recommendations.

Dr B N Gangadhar, professor at Nimhans who was on the IPS task force on DSM-V, said: “DSM is important mainly for doctors who are doing research. With growing amount of research conducted in the country, DSM-V will be an important tool.” But he added diagnosis in India is mainly done on the basis of World Health Organisation’s parallel scale called ICD ( International Classification of Diseases).

Suri said DSM is becoming popular in India’s “westernized” metros because it aids fast diagnosis. “People want a treatment plan as quickly as possible. Hence, DSM would be a good tool in the cities, but in rural settings, where western influence is low, it may not be possible to use it,” she added.

Parkar said each DSM has brought about debate and changes while Shetty viewed it as flexing of muscles. “DSM-V is an aggressive campaign for space and more power for psychiatry in a world where physical illnesses are the emperors,” Shetty said.

New illnesses in psychiatry handbook 

Temper tantrums are now Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Grief is Major Depressive Disorder

Forgetfulness is minor neurocognitive disorder

Adults can have Attention Deficit Disorder too

Binge Eating Disorder

Internet Addiction

DSM

DSM stands for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. This ensures that a diagnosis of schizophrenia is consistent from one clinician to another, across the world. DSM is also important to establish criteria for diagnosis that can be used in research on psychiatric disorders.

DSM has been periodically reviewed and revised since the publication of DSM-I in 1952. Given the burst of information in neurology, genetics and behavioral sciences, experts feel the need to upgrade the scale of diagnosis.

DSM V has been courting controversy for the last four-five years because as critics say, it’s trying to be the game-changer in psychiatry.

In an internet forum, American psychiatrist Dr Allen Frances, who was in the team to draw up DSM-IV, listed the 10 worst changes in DSM-V:

(1) Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: DSM-5 will turn temper tantrums into a mental disorder. Children and youngsters may be given medication.

(2) Normal grief will become Major Depressive Disorder, thus medicalising emotional reactions to the loss of a loved one. More pills

(3) The old-age characteristic of forgetting could be diagnosed as minor neurocognitive disorder, creating a huge false positive population of people who are not at special risk for dementia

(4) DSM-5 could lead to overdiagnosis of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and widespread misuse of drugs

(5) Excessive eating 12 times in three months will not be considered gluttony, but a psychiatric illness called Binge Eating Disorder.

(6) DSM-V may exclude Asperger Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Autism diagnosis is likely to fall

(7) First-time substance abusers will be clubbed with long-time addicts

(8) DSM-5 has introduced Behavioral Addictions. Could lead to over-diagnosis of internet and sex addiction

(9) DSM-5 highlights Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the worries of everyday life.

(10) DSM-5 could lead to misdiagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder

 

#India- Pre-exam helpline for students-011-65978181.


STAFF REPORTER, The Hindu, Feb 15, 2013

The Board exams come around every year and so do a host of issues like lack of concentration, loss of appetite, permanent headache, restlessness, lack of confidence and, in many cases, extreme depression.

A pre-exam helpline to help students deal with all these exam-related issues, “Disha”, operated by trained counsellors and mental health professionals, opened earlier this month. It is accessible to students daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. up to March 2 on 011-65978181. Students in distress will be helped through telephonic and face-to-face counselling.

The helpline has been reaching out to students in times of distress since 1999.

The organisation receives distress calls from Delhi, the National Capital Region and many other parts of the country from students of Class X, XI and XII — and sometimes even Class IV students and scholars preparing for competitive exams.

While many of the calls from students, parents and teachers relate to mental imbalances, many calls are also from students who want specific information about the exams.

Disha also says that the stress from the Board exams is mostly because it is so important for the academic future of every child.

Moreover, the system hardly provides any leverage to the student for exploring his likes or dislikes which only increases stress levels . Parents and teachers are also affected. Many students find pre-exam holidays more stressful since the pressure starts to build during this time.

Disha is an effort by Snehi, a non-government organisation, which works for the mental health needs of the community. It has been helping people in mental distress through counselling and other specific programmes for prevention of mental illness, with focus on children and young people. Disha’s counselling services are confidential and free of cost.

 

 

Sloppy Mental-Health Talk Will Intensify Stigma


By Atima Omara-Alwala

WeNews commentator

Monday, February 18, 2013

The current gun-control debate could worsen the mental health stigma that already stops many women of color from seeking help, says Atima Omara-Alwala. It’s necessary to get the facts right on mental illness and those who commit violent acts.

 

Let's sweep Mental Illness out from Under the Rug

 

Credit: Geek2Nurse on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)..

(WOMENSENEWS)–Well-meaning activists and elected officials do a huge disservice when they make assumptions about helping the mentally ill only in light of the extreme violence they are supposedly likely to commit.

For women in communities of color, already contending with higher rates of depression and other mental illness, this can be particularly harmful.

Who wants to come forward about your problems when National Rifle Association spokesperson Wayne La Pierre is saying you belong to a trigger-happy lunatic crowd whose names need to be kept on a registry?

Who wants to be lumped together with Adam Lanza?

The horrific massacre of school children and educators in Newtown, Conn., has spurred interest in mental health but the public discourse has spent very little time at the intersection of race and gender.

If we don’t address mental health reforms overall aggressively, the current gun-control debate could bolster a vicious stigma that already blocks many in underserved communities from seeking help.

Clicking through my Facebook and Twitter feeds that awful December day, I saw a torrent of pithy comments on the need to do something about mental illness and gun control in the United States.

It’s a tenuous link to make since an August 2006 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry shows only 4 percent of those considered mentally ill actually commit violent acts.

I grew up in a black immigrant family intimately affected by mental illness and disability. When I was a child, my favorite cousin, in her late 20s at the time, developed paranoid schizophrenia. Just before we knew she was ill, she came to stay with us, as she always had when visiting.

I was excited to see this cool big sister figure who took me shopping, to the movies and let me play with her makeup. I was shocked at what my pre-teen eyes saw. A healthy, vibrant full figured woman transformed into an emaciated, exhausted version of herself, her thick curly hair now rapidly thinning. Sores covered her once well-kept face.

Grappling With Illness

I will never forget watching my parents grapple with her diagnosis and try to get her help.

As I grew older I saw friends grapple with the byproducts of mental illness: eating disorders to alcoholism and self-injury. In spite of my knowledge and experiences, the national stats are still stunning.

About 26 percent (57.7 million) of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That number translates into a sobering 1-in-4 adults. Yes, 1-in-4.

Major depressive disorder, or depression, is a leading form of mental disability in people ages 15-44 in the United States and is more prevalent in women, with women suffering two-and-a-half times more likely than men from depression.

The disparity in those suffering from depression widens significantly when you zoom in on female demographics.

Fifty percent more African American women are diagnosed with depression than white women,

according to the National Association for Mental Illness. It’s raised such concern that at the 2007 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, mental illness and black women were discussed as a major topic because a study from Mental Health America showed a mere 7 percent of black women suffering from depression sought treatment, compared to 20 percent of white women.

The rate of suffering for Latinas is even higher than that of black or white women.

Psychological, biological and environmental factors combine to culminate in mental illness. Traumatic and stressful events, such as a death in the family or divorce or job loss, or even a presumably happy event such as getting married, can contribute to depression.

Unfortunately, the number of those who seek treatment is low, and even lower in communities of color. Here seekers can be more prone to finding mental-health services too expensive; not covered by insurance; or hindered by language and cultural barriers; compounding a larger problem further.

A ‘Weakness’

As a black woman, I am all too familiar with the belief that depression in my community can be especially seen as a “weakness.”

Mental Health America’s 2007 survey found that over half–63 percent–of African Americans believe that depression is a personal weakness. Only 31 percent consider it a medical problem that can be treated. Additional research from the National Association of Mental Illness indicates similar sentiments pervading the Latino and Asian communities.

To be clear I understand why the need for better mental-health treatment has been raised in the context of the Newtown and Aurora, Colo., and other mass shootings. And it’s true that some are homing in on the particular problems of men, who commit up to 94 percent of murder-suicides, according to a 2006 study by the Violence Policy Center.

But we can’t allow the discussion to get sloppy when it comes to mental illness.

Discussing what shifted in the lives of Lanza or Aurora shooter James Holmes to make them killers makes more sense than generalizing about the mentally ill whose percentage of violent crimes against others is low.

Far more frequently, those with mental illness torture and harm themselves.

I would be remiss as a person who has made her living in politics and advocacy if I didn’t use this window, asPresident Barack Obama encouraged, to help “make access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun.”

But we must also do our part to not stigmatize those in need so much so that they will not seek the help they need.

Atima Omara-Alwala is a political strategist, progressive and activist of 10 years who has served as staff on eight political campaigns and other progressive causes with a particular focus on women’s political empowerment and leadership, reproductive justice, health care and communities of color. Her writings on the topics have also been featured at Ms. Magazine, RH Reality Check and Fem2pt0. Currently, she isnational vice president of theYoung Democrats of America and serves on the boards of DC Abortion Fund andPlanned Parenthood Metro Washington Action Fund.