When it comes to mental illness, Americans are suffering one of the more pervasive symptoms: denial. That's according to the first report on the nation's mental health ever issued by a Surgeon General
"We have a major public health problem relative to mental health and mental illness, in that so many Americans are suffering and so few are seeking treatment," says David Satcher, United States surgeon general.
The report, issued at a press conference in Washington, finds that one in five Americans suffers from a broad range of mental health problems, and of those who have severe mental illness, nearly half do not seek treatment.
Dr. Satcher believes the numbers are conservative and advocates for the mentally ill agree. They hope the report spawns changes in mental health policy, creating more equity in insurance coverage and access.
One such advocate is Laurie Flynn of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "I think our policy makers are becoming aware that this is a public health crisis and they have the responsibility to address it," she says.
Moe Armstrong hopes the sweeping report will change something else. "If we were to remove the shame of mental illness, anything's possible," he says.
Armstrong has been battling schizophrenia for 32 years and now devotes his energies to helping other mentally ill people. He says shame is the biggest barrier to getting help. "I meet people who have depression who feel as though they're just kind of tired all the time," he says. "They don't think, 'well, I'm depressed.' They think, 'I'm tired.'"
The Surgeon General may have tapped into a troubling public health problem, but the report also finds that a wide range of existing treatments for mental illness do work well. The biggest challenge, it seems, is just asking for help.