Politics and Psychology: Strange Bedfellows
Today, the stigma of mental illness continues to be pervasive in many communities, preventing individuals and families from seeking timely and adequate mental health treatment. The statistics are alarming: one in four adults and one in 10 children—or 60 million Americans—suffers from a mental health disorder, but less than one-third seek treatment. Our returning war veterans have also found ways to hide their illness, keeping many troubled soldiers from taking advantage of help that is readily available.
In this issue of INSIGHT, you will discover how and why we vote, the psychology behind our choices on election day, what makes politicians tick, and why we are influenced by negative campaign ads. But given all that we know, an understanding of the changes in public perceptions and attitudes about mental illness still eludes us. Is there a role for politics in bringing the illness out of the shadows?
Former Representative Patrick J. Kennedy was a tireless advocate for eliminating this stigma. He fought for the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, signed into law in 2008. The law provides access to mental health treatment for tens of millions of Americans who were previously denied care. But although this was an important first step toward equity in care, the real challenge for those of us in the profession and politicians alike is breaking down the barriers and misinformation that prevent individuals and families from seeking treatment.
The Chicago School has tackled this challenge on several fronts. Recognizing that cultural competency and diversity among providers play critical roles in helping families be less fearful, we’re training culturally competent providers, connecting victims to resources, and improving treatment options. Several years ago, The Chicago School created the Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute for Mental Health Education, which has reached out and given voice to individuals and families who have experienced mental illness in isolation. The establishment of our Center for Latino Mental Health also serves as a national model to increase mental health services for all diverse populations.
Politics and psychology make strange bedfellows, but only when we work hand-in-hand with decision-makers to affect policy change, and also engage them as champions to speak out on this issue with their constituents. Only then can we hope to reduce the stigma of mental illness during this decade.