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Letter: The cost of untreated mental health issues

September 4, 2015
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Editor:

As a business leader, you’re in a unique position to make a significant impact in our community. That is why I would like to share a few candid thoughts on mental health issues. I’m aware there’s a stigma attached to them, and that’s something we need to overcome.

Currently, mental health issues are relegated to the fringes of society — to the random school shooter or person living on the streets. Of course, it’s much more than that. It’s also the dad struggling with depression. It’s the mom battling anxiety on a daily basis. It’s the veteran dealing with flashbacks, and the grandparent afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

All told, mental health issues touch one in five of us.

Yet, while friends and acquaintances freely share their battle with cancer or asthma or a heart condition, the person with depression suffers in silence, afraid to speak up and seek help. After all, what would people think?

Here’s what they should think: Mental health issues are part of life. The problem is we’re not focusing enough on the symptoms or how best to treat them. We need to change the mindset that, if it doesn’t show up on an X-ray, it must not exist.

Consider these facts:

  • In Michigan, nearly 2 million adults experience mental health symptoms each year but only a third receive treatment.
  • State government currently spends 20 times more on emergency care for people with mental health issues than preventive mental health care.
  • Mental health issues cause an estimated $5 billion in lost employee productivity every year in Michigan.
  • One report estimates an annual savings of up to $8 million by simply improving access to treatment.

Imagine if we recognized and treated the early symptoms of mental health issues the way we do with high blood pressure. How many lives could be impacted, and how many dollars could be put to better use? We need to find out.

There are a few things that must occur as we move forward:

  • Every one of us needs to recognize, accept and treat mental health issues the same way we do any other health issue.
  • We need to eliminate the shame attached to mental health issues. This starts by speaking openly about them.
  • There is no better way to address needless suffering and expense than investing in preventive mental health access and care.

Knowing the millions of families, friends and loved ones who are dealing with mental health issues, the impact we can make is profound. We don’t have to wait. Let’s begin today.

Phil Weaver
CEO
Hope Network

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