The Overlooked Threat – Mental Illness

            When you hear the term “mental illness,” do you conjure up images of crazy people in institutions? Perhaps you think of a paranoid schizophrenic walking down the street pushing a shopping cart overflowing with junk and talking to himself.

            Not all mental illnesses manifest themselves in such ways. How about alcoholism; drug addiction; depression? Researchers at the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported on November 18 that more than 45 million people – that’s approximately one of every five Americans over 18 years old – suffered from some degree of mental illness last year.

            Of those, 11 million had a serious mental illness. That means about one in 20 of all U.S. adults suffered from a serious mental illness in 2009.

Depression can be debilitating

            Reuters news service quotes SAMHSA administrator Pamela Hyde: “The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity and family discord.”

            According to the survey, more than 6 million adults had a mental health need that went untreated, and more than 42 percent of those people said the lack of treatment was because they could not afford it.

            Almost 15 million Americans suffered from major depression in 2009.

            How many would-be parents, we wonder, ever give thought to this peril of life? How many think that their kid is likely to grow up depressed, schizophrenic or delusional?

            About 10 percent of American adults take antidepressant prescription drugs at any time. The highest percentage of these is among young adults. We know and have known more people who have suffered from depression – in addition to other mental illnesses – than we can possibly remember.

            So we ask you to give this a dose of long, hard thought yourself. Think about relatives and friends. Think about family members of friends, and friends of friends, who have suffered from serious depression. Think of others whom you have known, or known of, who have attempted suicide or descended into schizophrenia. Think of those who have had dementia, or Alzheimer’s, or any disabilities like Asperger’s syndrome.

            Consider the homeless who are on the streets of our cities because they have lost a grip on reality. We wonder whether their parents ever considered the likelihood that their babies would grow into such lives and whether having kids was a high-stakes gamble.

            The decision to make children deserves more thought than just coming to the decision that, “Gee, I’d like to raise a kid.”

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