Three recent books address 'mental health epidemic'
Numbers of reported afflicted great cause for concern
A disturbing trendA June 23 review of recent books at The New York Review of Books begins with this startling observation:
It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startlinga thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for which the federal programs were created.The review, entitled "The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?," addresses three new works:
- The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth
- Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
- Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry -- A Doctor's Revelations about a Profession in Crisis
'Astonishing 46 %' meet criteriaYou'll have to read the whole thing to decide whether these books might be useful to you or someone you'd like to help, but we'll leave you with one more passage from the review, before more commentary on the same:
A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46 percent met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives. The categories were anxiety disorders, including, among other subcategories, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); mood disorders, including major depression and bipolar disorders; impulse-control disorders, including various behavioral problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and substance use disorders, including alcohol and drug abuse. Most met criteria for more than one diagnosis. Of a subgroup affected within the previous year, a third were under treatmentup from a fifth in a similar survey ten years earlier.If any of this is close to the target, these are trends we can not ignore. The stats on children have to be particularly disturbing, even for the most hard-hearted among us.
Skepticism: 'Researchers come up empty-handed'However, what may be most disheartening for those whose loved ones suffer from these ailments is that all the modern hoo-haw about science and pharmacology might be just that: hoo-haw. Writing about the same three books, and the review itself, Jacob Sullum writes June 13 at Reason.com:
As those questions suggest, Angell seems to share the skepticism of the authors whose books she reviews: University of Hull psychologist Irving Kirsch, who in The Emperor's New Drugs shows that antidepressants are only slightly more effective than placebos, so slightly that the difference may be attributable to stronger expectations of improvement primed by the drugs' side effects; the journalist Robert Whitaker, who in Anatomy of an Epidemic argues that the "astonishing rise of mental illness in America" can be understood largely as an outgrowth of the desire to sell psychiatric drugs; and Daniel Carlat, a Boston psychiatrist who confesses his profession's shortcomings in Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry. Angell notes that "none of the three authors subscribes to the popular theory that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain." She adds that "the main problem with the theory is that after decades of trying to prove it, researchers have still come up empty-handed."None of this can be comforting to anyone connected to a friend or loved one affected by mental illness. Imagine being stuck "in the system" trying to get SSI or SSDI benefits for someone so afflicted.
Delays in system back in the newsThe system in general is infamous for its delays and backlog, although some announced efforts we've covered here have been targeted at reducing the wait times, which can linger from many months to years. Sadly, recent reports indicate those efforts are losing headway. According to a June 22 report in Baltimore City Paper:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) may be losing its battle against the backlog of disability cases, according to an analysis of its data by a New York-based nonprofit. In particular, the data show that while progress had initially been made, the hoped for reduction in backlogged matters ground to a halt in the last 12 months, a report by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) says. Since then the number of pending cases grew by 5 percent. More success has been achieved in reducing average wait times.