Therapy Saves Lives: Why Mental Health Treatment Is Important

If you're suffering from mental health issues, you're not alone. Here's why mental health treatment is important, and how therapy can help

James Wilson
March 5, 2019
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Nearly everybody takes for granted that fragile lump of grey matter stored upstairs despite its responsibility for everything we experience. Most people embrace life without ever realizing how the brain works. Scientists and mental health professionals rarely share the same sentiment. James Gorman at The New York Times reported that both the US and the European Union (EU) were prioritizing funding to better understand the brain. At the time the article was published, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had allocated, on average, $4.5 billion a year on neuroscience research–no trivial investment. According to Gorman, however, “so many large and small questions remain unanswered.” It wasn’t too long ago that our leaders might have disregarded that prevailing uncertainty but the implications of further neglect are increasingly overwhelming.

It stands to reason that enhanced knowledge of the brain would help us improve how we address worldwide mental health issues. Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) already revealed that mental illness affects one in four people. The most sobering revelation was, in fact, related to appropriate and timely interventions. According to the WHO report, “treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek help from a health professional.” That means the majority of people with a mental disorder proceed through life completely unaided. Only the ignorant believe that the ramifications of going untreated are somehow limited to those afflicted. Mental health and medical insiders and the informed clearly know otherwise.

Skeptics should conduct some basic due diligence. Fortunately, three researchers at the NIH highlighted the economic costs of mental disorders back in 2016. “Consequences are not limited to patients and their social environment,” wrote the authoring trio. “They affect the entire social fabric, particularly through economic costs.” The biggest takeaway, however, is internalizing the difference between direct and indirect costs. The former encompasses the costs associated with actual diagnosis and treatment whereas the latter refers to income losses and/or productivity declines. Many individuals mistakenly assumed that the direct costs would always exceed the indirect ones. According to the experts, of the $2.5 trillion spent globally on mental health in 2010, “the indirect costs ($1.7 trillion) [were] much higher than the direct costs ($0.8 trillion).” Is that really so shocking after we consider how many people with mental disorders don’t receive any treatment at all?

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The ultimate solution to our problem might remain elusive but that doesn’t mean we can’t make significant strides in the right direction. June Gruber and Darby Saxbe at Slate emphasized as much last year. They stressed five critical areas that should see serious improvement. While each and every suggestion was salient, prioritizing adequate treatment and research funding are probably the best options. “If we want to offer the most effective mental health treatments, we need cutting-edge research to test those treatments and understand how they work,” explained the pair. Nowadays the challenge is convincing our elected politicians to take decisive action.

The present status quo frequently favors localized measures rather than national or regional ones. In other words, the best bet for most of us is obtaining treatment within the communities we call home. Anyone near a major city already has an advantage simply by virtue of population density. More people equals more treatment possibilities. New Yorkers looking for therapy, for instance, have only need a quick Google search to find a litany of qualified mental health professionals. Accomplishing the same thing a couple decades ago would have been far more difficult.

Suffice it to say that we don’t yet know enough about what makes us tick to solve our most pressing mental health disorders. The whole notion that we can ignore the uncertainty without paying the consequences is misguided. Knowledge is power and we’d be prudent to remember that.