I’m having a birthday soon and birthdays always bring introspection. I’m still a working girl and will be for some time, but my thoughts are drifting towards a new threshold—still years away--when I may not need to organize my life around gainful employment.
I’m looking ahead 25 years and thinking about how I want the world to be and what I can do to get us there before I die. The children born this week will be young adults in 2040 and some percentage of them will manifest a serious mental illness. But instead of the fragmented, wholly inadequate system we have now for treating them, they will find something far more effective and compassionate.
In 25 years…
Their diagnosis will come earlier and easier.
Their case management will be thorough.
Their families will be supported.
Their healthcare providers will be well-trained, better compensated, and there will be more of them.
They will not have to go to a different state or county to find the care they need.
The thousands of productive work hours lost by patients and their families to negotiate the present crumbling system will be dramatically reduced.
There will be more investment in research.
There will be more treatments.
There will be less stigma.
There will be more understanding and compassion.
And there will be as much reverence given to a mentally ill person’s dignity as for their civil liberties.
They will not end up in jail simply for being mentally ill.
Their treatment and care will be affordable, and insurers will want to invest in the modalities that best prevent morbidity.
There will be less violence and suicide.
In 25 years, those diagnosed with schizophrenia, bi-polar disease or other serious mental illness will be able to finish their education, start their occupations, work, have friends, and be part of a supportive society that has already helped them. I want them to enjoy their lives. I want resiliency for them and their families, and compassion and help from the rest of us.
How will this happen? I don’t know, but I am sure we can advance upon this trajectory in 25 years, and it will be a disgrace if we don’t. With enough focus, investment and commitment, we can make great improvements in the way we treat mental illnesses within one generation. I am willing to make this my personal moon shot.
It doesn’t matter the personal experiences and observations that led me to this. Anyone with eyes to see knows the mental health system is broken and that mental illness affects all families. I see the sheer waste of human potential, the shameful neglect by our society, and the burden ordinary families must bear to manage their mentally-ill loved ones. That’s enough for me.
And I hope it’s enough for you, because I can’t do this alone. For my birthday this year I’m going to give some extra money to an organization I already support because the mentally ill of right now need more help—they can’t hang on for 25 more years. But I’m also going to start to find the leverage points, the spaces where new investments of money and thinking can do the most good. There are a lot of fronts to cover—basic psychiatric research, housing, insurance, advocacy, treatment, family and client support—it’s daunting, all right. I’ve got 25 years to connect the dots from one thing to the next. And if others decide to help, then mental health reform has their 25 years too. This can scale. If you are a disrupter, a foundation, an angel investor, a like-minded ordinary person, a politician—there’s a place for you and you might hear from me.
In spite of the tragedy and violence of a fast-changing and less resilient world, our country just had a pretty good week. Let’s keep this going. I’m making mental health reform my personal moon shot. I’d like to make it our moon shot. Please join me. Let’s start talking at #MentalHealthReform and #PersonalMoonShot.