Suicide: the act of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, it is currently the 2nd leading cause of death in people ages 15-34; and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States. Suicide results in the loss of approximately 44,193 lives per year. For each death that occurs however, there are 25 suicide attempts, that is roughly 1,104,825 people that have tried ending their lives. While there are many circumstances that occur that may drive someone to commit suicide, nearly 90% of those who die of suicide have a mental illness (Mental Health by the Numbers, 2017).
Often times when someone has an “invisible” disorder such as a mental illness their symptoms are not taken as seriously in society when compared to a physical condition. People that suffer from a mental illness constantly face negative stigma from those surrounding them. Unfortunately, this has a substantial negative impact and makes the disease more difficult to deal with. In addition, the health care system in the United States does not effectively cater towards helping those who suffer from an “invisible illness,” which adds to the increased pressure of having to live with a mental disorder. The combination of dealing with negative stigma and improper care ultimately contributes to the increasing suicide rates in the United States. Lives are being taken as a result of issues that can be fixed. Every individual has the potential to contribute something great to the world, however this is not possible if their lives end too quickly for it to happen. In order for today’s society to flourish to its fullest extent there has to be measures taken to address these problems.
There are two types of stigma that occur; self-stigma and public stigma, and both have left the mentally ill have been left marginalized and ostracized from society (Brewnbow, 2005). Self-stigma is “the prejudice which people with mental illness turn against themselves” (Corrigan and Watson, Understanding the Impact). It is known to be the most harmful form of stigma for mental health sufferers. When there are negative perceptions of mental illnesses, people who suffer from them have a tendency to internalize those feelings. They believe that they are not as valued, which in turn takes a hit on their self-worth (Corrigan and Watson, 2002). Negative views of oneself can have serious consequences for those dealing with mental illness. For example, if a sufferer of depression internalizes the negative outlook society has on the mentally ill it can elevate their symptoms of hopelessness, fatigue as well as contribute to an increasing lack of self-esteem. Low-self-esteem leads to the development of the “why try” effect, where people with mental illness feel as if there is no point in getting help because they feel as if they will be unable to recover or live a normal life. Someone that is considered “mentally ill” is twice as likely to try and take their own life when compared to someone who has stable mental health (Insel, 2015). The “why try” effect can have dangerous outcomes, such as worsening mental health conditions as a result of not getting treatment.
Public stigma occurs when a large portion of the overall population has an undesirable reaction to people with mental illness. A result of public stigma is often discrimination; people have a tendency to withhold help, and limit their interactions with the mentally ill. Reports have revealed that in areas where stigma against the mentally ill are more prevalent the general population often withholds help, and practices social avoidance around people who have a metal health condition. (Corrigan and Watson, 2002). As humans we thrive on human connection and when we are shut out from receiving attention and care, we feel lonely and ostracized. These types of feelings combined with mental illness can increase one’s risk of suicide. As stigmatization becomes more prevalent so do cases of untreated psychiatric conditions, this leads to a worsening of symptoms, which ultimately can lead to suicide.
The suicide rate in America has skyrocketed to the highest it has ever been in 30 years. A study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the overall suicide rate increased by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014. Furthermore, since 2006 there has been a steady 2 percent rise each year (Tavernise, 2016). Another factor that contributes to the growing suicide rate is the lack of accessible treatment for mental illnesses in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of 2015, there were only an estimated 168,200 mental health counselors in the United States (Mental Health Counselors, 2015). In a society where mental illnesses are becoming more prevalent a lack of professional help leaves many sufferers without treatment. Mental health treatment is also hard to come by in low income neighborhoods. A recent study found that on average in the United States only 8% of low income neighborhoods had a mental health specialist physician practice. (Cummings, Allen, Clennon, 2017). A lack of resources means that many diagnoses of mental illness can go untreated, which further contributes to the increasing suicide rates. One of the biggest problems encountered with the shortage of mental health treatment is a result of the lack of mental health funding in America. As years progressed there have been significant budget cuts in mental health care. According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, from 2009 to 2012 n a staggering $5 billion had cut from state mental health budgets across the United States (Szabo, 2017). The decrease in funding also spreads to the national level. In March of 2017 President Donald Trump released his budget proposal for fiscal year 2018. In his proposed budget there is a $54 billion cut in nondefense discretionary spending. This includes money taken away from health and education programs, including programs for mental health (Pellitt,2017). In 2009 a study done by medical doctors focused on the relationship between suicide rates and mental health funding across multiple countries. The study found that there was a “significant positive correlation” between the suicide rates of the general population and the provision of mental health services and funding offered in the country (Shah., Bhandarkar, and Bhatia, 2009). Mental health funding can have a significant impact on the suicide rates in the United States, based on the trend of decreasing funding and increasing suicide rates, one can hypothesize that unless the treatment of the mentally ill change, the suicide rates will just continue to grow.
While some may turn argue that mental illness funding isn’t important because it only affects a minority of the population, this is quite the contrary. Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Thomas Insel states that when the mentally ill are unable to work because of ailing heath due to a lack of treatment it costs the country at least $444 billion, this cost includes disability payment, and lost productivity (Szabo,2017). Insel states that as a result of the way the mental health funding system is set up, there is a substantial financial loss for the country. Since early support is not provided through treatment coverage, the United States ends up “paying for life long support.” In addition, poor mental health treatment leads to more expensive prison and hospital costs. A majority of the mentally ill that are left untreated often find themselves in the country’s “de facto mental health institutions,” such as jails and prisons (Szabo,2017). According to an analysis done by the U.S. Justice Department in 2006 approximately 1.2 million people in local, state and federal custody suffered from a mental illness (Johnson, 2016). At least 30% the inmates in custody suffer from “severe” and psychotic mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In one instance an inmate who had been labeled as a “chronic self-mutilator” was arrested over 100 times, resulting in most than $1 million in repeated arrest and detention costs (Johnson, 2016).
Hospital costs are also on the rise as a result of poor mental health coverage. According to the federal Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality over 5.5 million people are taken to an emergency room each year because of a mental illness, this accounts for 4% of all visits (Johnson, 2016). However, since most mentally ill patients are uninsured hospitals remain uncompensated for their care. This increases the amount taxpayers end up paying in order to fix the disproportionate finances. In 2012, $456 million went into covering funds that went into treatment of the mentally ill (Johnson, 2016). When people turn their backs against supporting mental health funding because they believe that it doesn’t apply to them, it actually impacts their lives and their pockets much more than they would think. It increases the amount of money they spend as tax payers, money that could have essentially been saved had there been proper treatment to keep the mentally ill out of prisons and hospitals.
The way society acts towards the mentally ill in regards to negative stigma and improper care is completely unethical. Considering to the Common Good Approach to Ethics, better treatment of the mentally ill results in a heathier and more productive society. By diminishing negative stigma surrounding mental illness along with providing better care for the mentally ill, each individual that is battling a mental disorder has an opportunity to contribute positively to society. Not only does it establish financial growth but community growth as well.
The suicide epidemic in the United States is something that can be prevented if proper measures are taken to effectively care for the mentally ill. One step towards this goal would be tackling the negative perceptions of mental illness. When people suffer with mental illness they are already battling the darkest of thoughts in their mind, the last thing they need is a society that makes unfair judgements and actively discriminates against them. We must stop ostracizing the mentally ill and remember that they too are a part of society. It is the duty of an able-minded individual to make sure that everyone gets the help they need, so that this country can prosper to its fullest extent. This can be done by increasing mental health funding instead of cutting it out of federal and state budgets. Investing in mental health facilities, wellness campaigns and inclusive insurance policies that cover mental health treatment can lower the number of lives being lost as a result of suicide (Johnson,2016). Based on the current trend, the suicide rate in the United States will continue to increase, resulting in a shattered society. In order for this country to continue to thrive there must be action taken to provide better treatment for the mentally ill.