Issue #6; March 6, 2005
There is very little in life as precious to us as our own health and the health of our loved ones. There are few things outside of terrorism, war, or such natural disasters as the recent Asian Tsunami, however, which pose as significant a challenge to our health, and the health of our loved ones, as addiction and mental illness. All of us would like to believe that these diseases are unlikely to affect us personally. The fact is, in one way or another these conditions touch the life, and threaten the health, of every American.
Consider this small sample of threats to health posed by mental illness:
One out of four adults will have one or more episodes of mental illness during their lifetime. The remaining three out of four adults undoubtedly will be touched by mental illness through loved ones, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. People with mental illness are 10 times more likely than the general population to take their own lives.
For those who survive the illness, other health problems threaten their quality of life. Persons with mental illness are at significantly increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and associated organ failure. At the same time, people with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are at increased risk for mental illness; the combination of the two can be deadly. For instance, depression increases three-fold a person’s risk of dying from heart disease, while people who have both diabetes and depression will have a greater number of diabetes complications than those who do not suffer from depression.
Clearly, as the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recently argued “Mental health is essential to overall health and productivity… the basis for successful contributions to family, society, community…Throughout the life span, mental health is the wellspring of thinking, communication skills, learning, resilience, and self esteem. Mental…illnesses are real and disabling conditions… ”
Too often when one thinks of substance abuse, the term “addict” comes to mind. Rather than being confined to a marginal group of “addicts,” substance abuse and its related difficulties in fact represent one of the nation’s most pressing health concerns. Addiction is both far more common and its harmful consequences are more devastating and far reaching than we might think.
In an average year, one in four U.S. deaths will be attributable to alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug use, up to 47% of people visiting emergency rooms or trauma units will have used alcohol or other substances within the previous 6-24 hours, about 27,000 people will die of alcohol-related chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, about 13,000 motor-vehicle accidents will be attributable to alcohol, nearly 200,000 emergency room episodes will be related to cocaine use, and nearly 7,000 suicides will be alcohol-related.
Let’s touch on a related and critical issue for behavioral health and health in general: health disparities, i.e. barriers to access and quality care among lower income groups, especially racial and ethnic minorities. Yesterday at the State Capitol, the Connecticut Health Foundation (www.cthealth.org) announced major recommendations ranging from social and economic factors to workforce diversity to decrease health disparities. Our population is changing; all citizens need access to effective healthcare.
What’s the good news? Highly effective care strategies for health promotion and for treatment of mental illness and substance abuse are available. Also, a thriving community of people in recovery stand ready to assist others in the process of regaining their health and their lives. Much also is being done to prevent the onset of these conditions by education and by encouraging early identification of these disorders.
Comments are welcome at Larry.Davidson@po.state.ct.us or @yale.edu
A key component of overall health is good behavioral health.