Each week, I'll post links to a couple of articles about mental illness that I think are worth checking out. Of course, among the hundreds of new pieces out there, mine will be a tiny sampling with a different theme week to week. This week, mental illness in youth.
According to a report in the New York Times, "cash-starved states are increasingly relying on the prison system to handle young offenders with mental illnesses, who often need therapy more than punishment." Despite evidence that prisons in America fail to consistently rehabilitate criminal offenders or care for the mentally ill, jails have too often become the destination of first resort in our country. In our judicial system, protections for the poor and indigent, the mentally ill and the mentally retarded (classes that overlap considerably), are often stronger in principal than in practice. Without more robust advocacy and fitting care, those who are less able to understand and look out for their own interests will continue to find themselves on the unequal end of a system that promises equal protection.
Depression “tests” permitting self-screening in adults and kids are now available for the iPhone, with a similar application for generalized anxiety disorder in the works. Strange as this might sound, self-evaluation is a key part of mental health diagnosis and is where most, if not all, psychological treatment begins. If people, particularly kids, can be educated about the symptoms of mental illness and encouraged to reflect upon their own mental state, it seems possible that more will recognize a need for help, rather than continuing to live (or worse, die) in pain.
And a tangentially related note: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has announced an interdisciplinary study of suicide and mental health among military personnel. Investigators aim to identify risk and protective factors for suicide among soldiers and effective and practical interventions to reduce suicide rates, and to address associated mental health problems. In a situation not dissimilar to the New York Times report above, our government needs, in my opinion, to see its commitments through to the end. If we want to have a military of young men and women wage war, we need to be dedicated to providing the care they need upon their return. Medical care for veterans is woefully poor, while evidence of mental illnesses, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, is rampant. Too many soldiers face broken families, dysfunctional lives and suicide upon their return from combat. This NIMH study is a step in the right direction.