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Toward Better Mental Health In Minnesota

Mental Illness is Not a Matter of Character.

Mental illnesses have biological bases according to the Surgeon General and National Institute of Mental Health. Mental illness is our nation's leading medical problem, more widespread than cancer, lung, and heart disease combined. Mental illness is a health condition consisting of alteration in thinking, mood or behavior. For instance, Alzheimer's disease is an alteration of thought, depression is an alteration of mood, and attention deficit is an alteration of behavior and attention. In children and adolescents, mental illness is referred to as serious emotional disturbance.

We All Need to Take Mental Health Seriously.

According to the Surgeon General's Report (1999), 20% of the U.S. population has a mental disorder in a given year. This means that 57 million Americans, including about one million Minnesotans, experience a mental disorder during a year yet only about one-third will seek treatment. The World Health Organization has identified that mental illness is the second leading cause of premature death and disability in the United States and other similarly developed counties. Estimates are that mental health care costs our nation more than $200 billion per year in both direct and indirect costs. The lives of both children and adults are becoming more psychologically complex, which is even more reason to understand mental illness and mental health.

Children and Adults with Mental Health Conditions Do Get Better.

Research has demonstrated that mental health interventions work and are just as effective as many interventions for physical illnesses. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illness is a brain disorder that often results in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. There are a variety of treatments for mental illnesses such as psychotherapy, drug therapy, community supports, and treatment settings. Many times, more than one type of treatment is necessary.

Like Most Physical Illnesses, Mental Illnesses are Best Treated with Early Identification and Intervention.

Early intervention is actually a form of prevention. Management of early warning signs often prevents the re-occurrence of mental illness episodes. For example, just as someone with high blood pressure would monitor their blood pressure and manage stress, someone with major depression would monitor their mood and manage activity. Both would also likely be medications for their conditions. Children with mental illness can recover and lead normal, peaceful, and productive lives in their homes, schools, and communities, especially when given the help they need early on.

Early intervention is often found at your place of employment. Many employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) to assist with counseling, referral, and support of mental health problems.


Two thirds of adults and children who need help for a mental health condition do not seek help mainly because of stigma. People are sometimes embarrassed to seek assistance and believe they should be able to handle their own problems. People often focus upon a stereotype of mental illness. The issue of stigma covers all age groups. For mental disorders to be successfully addressed, it is in our best interests to understand their causes and treatments. It is particularly important that we dialogue about mental health with families, employers, school, and community groups. We need to talk frankly without shame and secrecy. We owe that to one another and ourselves.

 Where Do I Find Out More?

If you believe you or someone close to you is in need of help, one-step is to consult the Yellow Pages under Mental Health in your local phone directory. A number of providers are listed which can help. Another source is your primary care doctor.

Information taken from An Initiative of the Minnesota Departments of Human Services; Health; Corrections; and Children, Families & Learning in Partnership with the League of Women Voters of Minnesota.