President’s Perspective: Evolution of Mental Illness
Public attitude toward certain diseases and conditions can be perplexing, as this month’s cover story on measles suggests. Over the course of my own life, I have noticed this most acutely in regard to mental illness. While I have observed some progression of society’s understanding and support of mental illness, we’ve got a long way to go.
During my formative years, mental illness carried a social stigma of shame. It was never dis-cussed. I remember two classmates of mine who were clearly suffering from mental illness and then suddenly disappeared from school, never to return. Treatment alternatives at the time were extremely crude, often involving isolation, heavy sedation and/or rudimentary shock therapy. I often wonder if my classmates were ever able to recover and return to productive lives.
Over the past decades, though, we have begun to address the stigma attached to mental illness. Today, adolescents are certainly more open to seeking help and discussing mental health issues. While progress has been made in developing therapeutics that are more refined in addressing symptoms, the time spent and side-effects endured when finding the optimal drug can be daunting. New technologies utilizing DNA sequencing and analysis, however, offer new hope in determining the ideal drug for each patient.
Finally, legislation in recent years is attempting to bring parity to reimbursement for mental illness treatment to match that of physical illness. This is long overdue and an important step forward in addressing the multiple layers of shame and discrimination associated with mental illness.
There is no vaccine for depression, for bipolar disorder, for an eating disorder. Thousands of years ago, we understood the essential connection between our mental and physical health. Perhaps we need to look back to move forward.
William F. McKeon
President and CEO
Texas Medical Center