Mental disorders left to the margins

More than 2.6 million Canadians with mental illness have suffered quietly, shamed into reticence by the stigma associated with their condition.

Almost half of these people will not seek care.

Lives are lost through suicide – Canada has the third-highest suicide rate in the industrialized world for the age group 15 through 24 years – and millions of Canadians suffer from depression.

The hardest hit are teens and young adults.

Complicating such problems is the fact that mental disorders have been neglected by public health practitioners and are widely ignored in the collective mind of the public.

As a result, health professionals and society at large have tended to minimize issues of mental illness.

Mental disorders never make the top 10 public health concerns, yet they should be confronted rather than relegated to the margins of public health concerns.

Disability Adjusted Life Years, or DALYs, are years of life lost because of premature death or years lived with disability.

The burden, in other words, is determined by taking into account mortality as well as suffering.

One DALY is one lost year of healthy life. When DALYs are included in health indices, mental disorders ranked almost as high as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders and surpassed all types of cancer.

The Global Burden of Disease, determined by the World Health Organization, reports that the suffering caused by major depression is equivalent to that caused by blindness or paraplegia; the disability caused by schizophrenia is estimated to be somewhere between paraplegia and quadriplegia.

Depressive disorders, as a single category, was the leading cause of suffering worldwide.
Recent research addressing the indivisible unity of mind and body indicates that various mental disorders such as depression and insomnia pose significant risks for developing physical problems such as coronary heart disease.

Given these facts, what must be done? Diagnosis is an appropriate place to begin. Modern brain imaging reveals that in some psychological disorders, neural circuits responsible for moods, thought, sleep and appetite fail to function properly and in other cases, critical neurotransmitters such as serotonin are severely impaired.

Studies in behaviour genetics indicate that vulnerability to some mental disorders results, in part, from the combined influence of multiple genes and environmental factors.

Research into one’s environment suggests that some psycho-social factors, such as unemployment and poverty contribute to some psychological difficulties.

It is essential to make mental health issues mainstream and bring them into various forms of public health research.

Mental illnesses are a major part of the global burden of diseases. People with mental disorders experience significant suffering, severely limiting their functioning at the physical, personal and social levels.

Such suffering leads to a poorer quality of life and their families and communities are greatly affected. The need to address such a global problem is urgent and means addressing such issues now.

Only then can we limit the amount of suffering faced by future generations.

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