It’s the Mental Health System, Stupid

In the 1992 presidential election of George H.W. Bush versus Bill Clinton, Clinton’s campaign strategist James Carville coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Bush reneged on his previous campaign promise, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” and raised taxes, sending America into a recession as he was asking for a second term in the White House. Clinton deftly highlighted the failing economy in his successful presidential campaign.

While this strategy could be a winner in this fall’s midterm elections, and likely again in the 2024 presidential election, the reality is that Democrats and Republicans both screw up the economy. The difference is that Democrats promise and follow through on their disastrous policies, while Republicans talk a good game on the campaign trail and then renege on most of their promises. The net result can be summarized as Republicans bad, Democrats worse.

Instead, why are not politicians of either stripe talking about a problem that is apparent almost daily in the news and during a visit to any large American city, namely wanton shootings and murder, and the scourge of homelessness? Proposed solutions include Band-aids of banning scary-looking weapons or creating homeless camps to sweep the problem under the rug, but these so-called solutions ignore the root causes of these societal blights.

The elephant in the room is mental health care in America, a problem that makes people uncomfortable and which they would rather not talk about. How bad is it?

According to Johns Hopkins University: “An estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older — about 1 in 4 adults — suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” Going further, “Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. In particular, depressive illnesses tend to co-occur with substance abuse and anxiety disorders.”

They also note that “9.5% of American adults ages 18 and over, will suffer from a depressive illness (major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia) each year.” And that, “Approximately 1% of Americans are affected by schizophrenia.”

Is there any doubt that if 1 in 4 Americans suffered from breast cancer or AIDS, the attention currently devoted to these illnesses would increase by orders of magnitude? But with mental illness, society and elected officials yawn or awkwardly look the other way.

Recent socio-economic conditions are certainly not helping matters.

As health think tank Maximus observed:

The year 2020 was extraordinary. As the world faced the deadly global pandemic, the daily existence of individuals and families across the United States was shaken and turned upside down, changing our everyday life (home, work, and play) as we knew it. The consequences to public health include social isolation, sickness, grief, unemployment, and an abrupt halt to all of our daily routines.

While COVID has become less of an acute issue, its consequences persist, along with deteriorating economic conditions. Soaring inflation, a looming recession, and shortages of food and other essentials are throwing gasoline on a raging fire.

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