The Nature of the Problem

Virtually none of us expects to become mentally ill nor to encounter mental illness in our families. Yet severe mental illness--schizophrenia, manic depression (bipolar disorder), or severe depression-- afflicts from 12 to 16 million Americans with hallucinations and delusions, disordered thinking, irrational fears, or suicidal depressions. Their parents, siblings, children, spouses, and other close relatives are also devastated. Mental illness enters the lives of at least a quarter of all U.S. families.

The costs, direct and indirect, are staggering. Americans spend $16 to $20 billion per year directly on the care for those with serious mental illness and several times this amount indirectly for the social costs of such problems as the mentally ill who are homeless.
Mental illness has been with us for thousands of years, yet continues to baffle us. There is still no cure. The health care for many is marginal. Two-thirds of those diagnosed with schizophrenia may be expected to need institutionalization or special living conditions for the rest of their lives. New medications alleviate symptoms and help make it possible for many patients to return to some form of active life, but some of the drugs have serious side effects. The quality of programs for those with mental illness varies widely, and results are often not proportional to the dollars spent.
The social stigma of mental illness undermines the whole world of mental health care. Stigma makes accepting and coping with the illness more difficult for those who are ill. For families it exacerbates the problems of having a mentally ill family member and participating in his or her care. And it diminishes the support and understanding we give to the professionals who are endeavoring to provide that care.
The problem overwhelms us. We are afraid, and we put mental illness out of our minds. We avoid contact with those who are mentally ill, because we don't understand them and perhaps also because we fear for our own sanity. We stigmatize mental health professionals as well as their patients. We do not compensate those who care for the seriously mentally ill with sufficient resources and support.
"Rather than working together to solve the problems and ease the burden of mental disability, families, patients, and professionals are too often locked into a battle in which everyone emerges a loser."

--Kayla F. Bernheim, Ph.D.
in The Caring Family

Back a page Towards a Solution

The Mental Illness Education Project, Inc.
P.O. Box 470813, Brookline Village, MA 02147
(617) 621-9700