Asthma and Depression Are Not the Same: Mental Health Stigma

This past Wednesday was Mental Health Awareness Day. Didn’t hear about it? That’s not surprising. This campaign happens every year on October 10 and is championed by this outfit called the World Health Organization. You’ve probably heard of them. Despite its impressive promoter, this year on October 10, it seemed almost no one was talking about mental health or how we should be more aware of it.

Statistics on mental illness in the US are hard to nail down, but one thing is certain: untreated or inadequately treated mental illness is costly. A recent New York Times story calculates that cost at half a trillion annually. With that kind of price tag, you’d think more people would notice. But in reality, there are countless cases of mental illness left untreated, sometimes with heartbreaking consequences.

There are tons of articles out there that advocate dismantling the stigma surrounding mental illness and putting mental healthcare on par with physical wellness. So instead of that, let me tell you how this year’s Mental Health Awareness Day affected me.

A short digression: I’ve had asthma my entire life. I’ve been lucky–I haven’t once been hospitalized because of it nor has my life been much impaired by it either. But despite my very long track record of well-controlled asthma, according to health insurance companies, I need constant reminding on how to keep my asthma in check–stuff like avoiding my asthma triggers and regularly monitoring my symptoms (steps I’ve been taking for as long as I can remember, by the way).

A friendly reminder from my health insurer
A friendly reminder from my health insurer (ironically) received on Mental Health Awareness Day.

Now that’s all well and good. Insurance companies should encourage their customers to take a proactive approach toward their health. But why haven’t I gotten a single communication from my health insurer about my depression? I haven’t received so much as a postcard reminding me to visit my psychiatrist or an email checking in to see how I’m feeling. I can understand why individuals wrongly ignore mental illness (stigma, misunderstandings, misinformation) and there is plenty indication that family physicians don’t get nearly enough training on mental healthcare. But one would think that my health insurance company would get it–particularly since they’re already so proactive about that other potentially life-threatening and costly medical condition I have.

Despite the impending overhaul of the healthcare industry, it’s unlikely the Affordable Care Act is going to change much. Americans seem content to discount or outright shun mental healthcare, and sadly, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.

Mental Illness Factsheet

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