Knowledgeable Society Can Bring HOPE

Written by Paul E. Keck Jr., M.D.,  president and CEO of Lindner Center of HOPE and a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

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Abraham Lincoln, Virginia Woolf, Eugene O’Neill, Leo Tolstoy, Tennessee Williams, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Carrie Fisher, Mike Wallace, Patty Duke, Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta-Jones – all talented and gifted individuals, each has made unique contributions to society, are heroes to many and all have touched our lives in one way or another.

Is it surprising that these individuals have experienced a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and/or personality disorder? It shouldn’t be. Mental illness affects one in four individuals, and five of the top 10 causes of disability worldwide are due to psychiatric illness. They strike men and women in almost equal proportions and affect people of all ages, ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels.

Although we have never had better evidence-based treatment and more achievable recovery for most psychiatric disorders, substantial stigma still exists and creates barriers for people needing and seeking treatment. Massive improvement is also needed in reimbursement for mental health care. Though these illnesses are as devastating for families as cancer and heart disease, society perpetuates disparities in support for individuals and families faced with mental illness.

Through research, great advancements in genetics, diagnosis and treatments have been made. In addition, we continue to increase awareness about the nature of suicide and the co-occurrence of mental illness and addiction.

Mental illness can be an uncomfortable topic, but when people share their stories, awareness grows and compassion is cultivated. We have an opportunity, in our community, to be leaders in improving access to high-quality mental health services, not only for humanitarian reasons, but based on economic imperatives.

Enhancing the health and well-being of our communities depends on a collective effort. No one organization, business or advocate can do it alone. I commend the nationally well-known individuals who share their stories of hope and also thank the everyday heroes in our communities who also face the effects of mental illness.