Dr. Oz’s Prescription for the Mental Health Crisis

We’re facing a global emergency and we need to speak up.

If you saw your friend limping or nursing his or her knee, you’d be concerned, right? You would know this person probably has an injury, and then ask how you could help.

But what do we do when an illness doesn’t have any obvious physical symptoms? We are much less comfortable talking about these conditions. That’s why mental health remains a hidden epidemic – one that has now reached a global scale.

One in four people globally struggles with some sort of mental health challenge. However, according to the World Health Organization, nearly two-thirds of people don’t get help. Nearly one million people around the world commit suicide each year. Unfortunately, people will continue to avoid mental health services as long as these very serious medical conditions stay shrouded in shame and silence.

The consequences of this stigma are unsustainable. By not addressing this crisis we will pay a much bigger price that will affect our children and generations to come. By some estimates anxiety, depression, trauma and other mental disorders will cost upwards of $16 trillion by 2030 globally.

Let’s face it, we all struggle with mental health challenges at some point in our lives. Charlemagne tha God was recently a guest on my show. I was surprised to learn the successful and charismatic radio host contends with crippling anxiety. Charlemagne is vocal about his issues because he wants people to know there is hope.

If Charlemagne can talk about his challenges in front of a national audience, we should all be able to talk about mental health with our family and friends. Opening up that dialogue and letting your loved ones know you are there for them is the most important step. Admittedly starting these conversations may feel unnatural, but it does make a difference. In fact, research finds that when kids regularly have dinner with their families they are less likely to suffer from substance abuse. It’s the reason why I started the National Night of Conversation and created tools to help get the conversation started.

Medicine can also do better. We need to adapt our medical model to apply to both mental and physical illness, so people can get the care they need much sooner. If you diagnose many cancers and heart disease early, there’s a better prognosis. We forget the same holds true for people with psychological disorders. A study on bipolar disorder found it took an average of six years for patients to receive a diagnosis  – that is far too long. 

Recently we have made some progress. There is now a federal law that requires medical insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for mental illness, just like they cover the costs of treatment for “physical” illnesses like diabetes.

Progress has also been made on a global scale. The World Health Organization and the United Nations have integrated mental health into their defined goals for improving human health throughout the world. In many parts of world, primary care physicians are receiving training that will enable them to provide mental health services, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapies.

If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, hopeless, or just generally stressed out, then your primary care physician is a great place to start. He or she can help you develop your action plan and point you in the right direction for the care you need.

Also, be proactive and help the people around you. Consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course. Just like CPR training provides the tools you need to recognize and act if a person stops breathing, Mental Health First Aid teaches you how to recognize the signs of depression – even suicide – and provide support to an individual in his or her time of need.

So, here’s my prescription: Start those conversations with friends, family members, and even your doctor. Everyone can — and should — play a role in how the world understands and treats people who are struggling with their mental health. Speak up and be part of the change we all so desperately need.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to your local emergency room.

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