Doctors need to pay more attention to mental health

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
October 17, 2018

More than 40 million Americans suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.[1] Yet more than half these folks go untreated.[2] Medical professionals must devote more attention to identifying and treating patients with mental illness.

Mental illness afflicts people of all ages. Ten percent of children and young people suffer from some form of mental illness, according to the Mental Health Foundation.[3] The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that “half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses start by age 14.”[4]

Our aging population is also at great risk. By 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 75 will increase by over 50 percent.[5] And according to the WHO, mental illness and disorders afflict more than 20 percent of people over the age of 60.[6]

It often takes years for individuals with mental illnesses to seek treatment.[7] Many are scared of the stigma associated with seeking help.[8] And since the symptoms of mental illness aren’t always obvious, physicians often fail to spot these ailments during routine check-ups. Primary care doctors only identify about 30 percent of patients suffering from depression.[9] 

Mental health is also closely intertwined with the burdens of chronic disease. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that folks suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and other chronic disease are at a higher risk of developing depression.[10]

The consequences of going without treatment are often tragic. Mental illnesses are one of the main contributing factors to suicide, which claims over 44,000 Americans’ lives every year.[11] Americans with severe mental illnesses pass away an average 25 years earlier than others, in many cases due to manageable medical problems.[12]

Mental illness also takes a massive economic toll. Serious mental illness costs America roughly $190 billion in earnings every year.[13] Worldwide, mental illness is projected to cost $6 trillion by 2030.[14]

The World Health Organization has established that mental health and well-being is a key component of people’s overall health — so medical professionals must make it a priority to tackle this mounting crisis.[15]

In SGU’s psychiatry rotation, students learn to how to conduct a mental status examination and recommend treatments.[16] SGU also provides confidential psychological services to any student suffering from mental health disorders.[17]

SGU also works with the surrounding community to identify signs of mental illness. St. George’s has partnered with the Ministry of Health in Grenada on a “Savings Brains” program, which serves to screen, identify, and manage potential developmental mental disorders in young children in Grenada. SGU’s students also have partnered with Mt. Gay Hospital, Grenada’s primary mental health facility.

On a broader scale, SGU has joined the international community in recognition of Suicide Awareness in the month of September. This involves raising awareness, promoting social support, and reducing the stigma attached to mental illness.

Training medical professionals who can confidently help patients with mental illnesses is key to solving this crisis — and SGU is leading the way. It’s time for all medical schools to follow suit.   



















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