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This month’s issue on mental health is a continuation of the monthly series started last year, focusing on health disparities in the Pittsburgh region. The series is a partnership among the New Pittsburgh Courier, Community PARTners (a core service of the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute—CTSI) and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. Michael Yonas, DrPH, assistant professor of family medicine at Pitt, sat down with Esther L. Bush, president and CEO of the Urban League, to talk about this month’s topic.
MY: Thank you, Ms. Bush, for your vision and leadership for these health segments and making possible this unique partnership. We hear about the importance of mental health every day—whether in the news or from our doctors. This is a health topic that affects people of all ages. This month’s segment points out that about one in four adults suffers from some kind of mental illness. Were you surprised to hear this?
EB: No, Michael. Sadly, I am not surprised. Mental illness touches the lives of so many people and often those about whom we care deeply. I have learned about how often people experience depression. It’s so important for us to learn to recognize the symptoms of depression and encourage those suffering to seek help. The work that Dr. Reynolds and his colleagues are doing to figure out how to not only treat, but also prevent depression is so important. We cannot allow our friends and family members to suffer in silence. As his research has found, when people who face barriers seek help, they achieve success through treatment just as often as people who don’t face such barriers.
MY: You’re right. It is so important to include mental health in our discussions when talking about physical health and the health of our communities. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org) reports that African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary. Shockingly, adults living with serious mental illness die about 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
EB: This is an incredible statistic, Michael, and unacceptable. I was happy to see that mental health was included in President Obama’s new plan released in January called “Now Is the Time.” It states that fewer than half of the children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. This might be because of barriers with health insurance or due to stigma and shame. We can all educate ourselves about mental health. By educating ourselves, we are taking an important step toward being a part of the solution to lessen the secrecy that so often surrounds mental illness. As President Obama said during his second inauguration speech, “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care…but we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”
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