In late February 2018, 2,600 delegates met in Switzerland to go over some of the world’s most important global issues at the World Economic Forum (WEF). These issues ranged from automation to plastic pollution, from environment and natural resource security, to the future of economic progress. No less important are the psychological and behavioral science-based topics the WEF addressed.
The Oakland, California-based managed care organization Kaiser Permanente sponsored a discussion during hte WEF on mental health and the impact it has on our society. The main topic of conversation: the 2016 Global Burden of Disease study. This study brought up some pretty terrifying facts: the leading cause of disability in the world are combined mental, neurological, and substance use disorders.
When this is applied to the general population, we can see that this is truly an epidemic—a “time bomb” if you will, with the timer quickly running low. The Lancet also reports that these disorders are responsible for “1 of every 10” years of poor human health.
It’s enough to make many people feel rather hopeless. Which brings us to the next major issue addressed by the panel. Suicidality has been growing at an alarming rate as well, according to the same study published in The Lancet. With the 41% increase in mental, neurological, and substance use disorders, it is no wonder that the rates of suicide attempts and completions have been growing as well.
If you’ve been waiting for a call to action: Here it is. As students or prospective students in psychology and the behavioral sciences, it is our duty to address “the coming deluge.” There just doesn’t seem to be enough mental healthcare to go around. And the mental health services in place at this time don’t seem to be doing an adequate job.
During the WEF, Keiser Permanente offered their own system as a case study. They explained that even within their own system, many people who do make it into the hospital for treatment will often have their mental health issues go unrecognized or undiagnosed. Many psychological conditions can manifest in physical ways, as well. Keiser Permanente noted that nearly a third of their primary care visits were patients presenting with physical symptoms likely rooted in a psychological basis.
What can we, as budding professionals, do? When reporting on the WEF in a Fortune report, Clinton Leaf noted three major issues that can be addressed.
One major issue that seems to be agreed upon ubiquitously is that a mental health diagnosis comes with a certain level of stigma. This sense of “disgrace” has caused people to avoid seeking help for treatable issues. It has helped to perpetuate negative stereotypes in our culture. It has made individuals with a mental health concern feel like a blemish on our population. This list continues. Many of the issues can be connected to this feeling of stigma of living with a mental health diagnosis could be addressed with better literacy in the field of mental health.
Advocate, advocate, advocate!
The California Psychological Association (CPA) has noted that the psychological and behavioral sciences are extremely lacking when it comes to self-advocacy. The professionals who are seeing the issues first-hand seem to be the ones who are most informed of the issues. However, unlike many other professions, the CPA stated that psychological and behavioral health professionals are not always on the front lines advocating for the needs of our fellow professionals, our clients, and our profession. The CPA explains that we can get better funding for our clients is if we start to organize and advocate.
Many states across the United States have been scaling back their mental health. In fact, The Treatment Advocacy Center cited that the availability of psychiatric and psychological services worsens every year. They noted some of the major issues that this lack of access to care manifests as extremely short hospital visits when they are deemed necessary – often not long enough to address any underlying issue. As was reiterated by the World Economic Forum, many individuals suffering from mental health crises such as suicidality or extreme substance use disorders are at risk of death or suicide.
Although the overall information shared at the World Economic Forum on mental health was concerning, it can also serve as a wake-up call. As a new wave of professionals train to enter the field, we are presented with an interesting case. It is absolutely necessary that we educate and advocate for our patients and our profession. The overall position of our profession is not negative; rather, the overall sentiment of the Forum seemed to be one of hope for the future, especially as a call to innovation. With that being said, let’s get after it!