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We should love people suffering from mental illness even more than we love dogs in shelters | Opinion

Patriot-News - 1/8/2020

With the new year starting hopefully people throughout the country will develop 2020 vision and finally see the inhumanity occurring, stand up, and stop it now!

Gov. Tom Wolf seems to have finally realized that Pennsylvania needs to change the archaic ways people with mental health problems are being treated.

It appears people care more about sheltered dogs than they do about imprisoned, homeless or struggling individuals living with physical mental health conditions. While we love dogs and care deeply for them, we must love human beings more.

Mental health problems are physical medical conditions with cognitive and emotional symptoms. They’re very treatable and like other physical medical conditions the earlier proper treatment is received the greater the chance for quick and full recovery. Like other physical conditions, mental health conditions have stages of illness. Yet, our public policies ignore educating people on the first stage signs and symptoms of a developing mental health problem (prodrome stage); and, spend millions of taxpayer dollars on trying to prevent these medical conditions at the fourth stage of illness - addiction, suicide, overdose.

From child to senior Americans everyday are getting very sick with many being arrested, incarcerated and dying because of this inhumane treatment. What would people do if we waited until fourth stage of cancer, lung or heart disease to educate for prevention and intervention? People would be up in arms! Truth is more people live with mental health problems than lung disease, cancer, and heart disease combined. Yet, health care public policy continues to ignore the dire need for public saturation on how to prevent, know the early signs and symptoms, and going to the family physician early is the wise thing to do to keep from getting seriously mentally ill.

It has been scientifically proven for decades that mental health problems are preventable and highly treatable in the early stages of illness just like many other physical medical conditions. Yet, for decades, there has not been a profound push to get this message out to the public.

Any person experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis should not be subject to the discriminating and prejudicial failings of our society any longer. That is why the American Mental Wellness Association launched a Call to Action for Equality! Equity! Justice! Only when the masses rise up and tell their elected officials, hospital administrators, health care providers, lawyers, etc. this lack of responsible governing must end now will we see a happier healthier place to live, work, and raise our families.

Here is a truth that even the drug and alcohol rehab providers know to be true - in 85 percent of addiction cases a mental health problem preceded the addiction by about three years. Its time politicians know this truth and start addressing the reduction of addictions, overdoses, and suicides by providing desperately needed dollars at the front end of these medical conditions too.

The Dec. 22, 2019Sunday Patriot News announced “$2.7M in federal grants to help central PA combat addiction” has been released by the U.S. Department of Justice. It appears this money will all go to the end stages of illness with not even a small percentage going toward public education for prevention and early intervention of mental health problems which includes substance abuse disorders for the holistic health of the individual and society.

Expecting reduced numbers of individuals not becoming addicted, overdosing, or committing suicide without educating for prevention and the need for early stage medical care is just plain inhumane. It seems Governor Wolf’s new campaign “Reach Out PA - Your Mental Health Matters” has very little funds. Perhaps he can use some of the $2.7M?

To end this inhumane treatment in 2020 we encourage everyone to work towards obtaining the 24 NOT ONE MORE bullets of the Equality! Equity! Justice! call to action which can be found at https://www.americanmentalwellness.org/calltoaction/.

Sharon Engdahl is executive director of the American Mental Wellness Association.

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(c)2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

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