Last Sunday, MSNBC news anchor Melissa Harris-Perry devoted a portion of her show to a discussion on mental health consciousness in the U.S. in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week.
Harris-Perry, whose weekly broadcast regularly focuses on issues of social justice and politics, asserted that the segment was her way of doing “her own small part” towards greater awareness. She praised the progress America has seen in acknowledging and de-stigmatizing disorders like depression and anxiety but also encouraged her viewers to broaden their acceptance of mental conditions to disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Harris-Perry started her segment by demonstrating the importance of mental health awareness and understanding through a number of statistics displaying the prevalence of mental illness in America. In short:
• 1 in 4 adults will experience a mental disorder in a given year.
• 1 in 10 children live with a serious mental disorder.
• With proper treatment, 70-90% of people can reduce the impact of their illness and increase quality of life.
• Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people ages 15-24.
• 90% of suicides involve a person with a mental disorder.
She went on to criticize the current mental health structure in the United States, a system which houses many of the mentally ill who have committed non-violent crime in expensive prisons rather than in other institutions.
To discuss the issues further, Harris-Perry introduced a panel of correspondents, including Vanderbilt psychology professor Jonathan Metzl and Clutch magazine editor Danielle Belton, who lives with bipolar disorder. The conversation with the panel centered around the ongoing question that both the mental health world and disability rights movement as a whole have struggled with: whether to put funding and research into medical advances or to focus attention on shifts in social attitudes.
Belton addressed society and stigma when speaking about “coming out” as bipolar.
She said, “I feel a responsibility to come out and actually talk about it. [In my darkest days] I didn’t see anyone with this disease. The only people I saw were people who were sick, people who were struggling who could barely get out of bed in the morning. That’s a pretty bleak outlook.”
But Belton also implied social stigmas are not the only thing holding people with mental disorders back; finding the proper medication was extremely important in her developing a functional life.
Metzl echoed a similar sentiment from a psychological perspective.
When asked whether mental illnesses should be treated as physical illnesses like diabetes or cancer, or on the opposite end, not treated as illnesses at all, Metzl responded, “The broader definition of treatment can be a good thing. More people will get treatment, more people will get care. But at the same time, there’s the worry that we’re going to then over-medicalize the conditions which opens the door for social issues.”
Belton agreed with Metzl saying, “There has to be a balance.”
You can watch the introduction to the segment MSNBC’s video website. The rest of the segment is available on the scroll down menu on the left side of the site.