Chapter 1
Introduction and Themes

Overarching Themes

The Science Base of the Report

Overview of the Report’s Chapters

Chapter Conclusions

Preparation of the Report


Chapter 8: A Vision for the Future—Actions for Mental Health in the New Millennium

The extensive literature that the Surgeon General’s report reviews and summarizes leads to the conclusion that a range of treatments of documented efficacy exists for most mental disorders. Moreover, a person may choose a particular approach to suit his or her needs and preferences. Based on this finding, the report’s principal recommendation to the American people is to seek help if you have a mental health problem or think you have symptoms of a mental disorder. As noted earlier, stigma interferes with the willingness of many people—even those who have a serious mental illness—to seek help. And, as documented in this report, those who do seek help will all too frequently learn that there are substantial gaps in the availability of state-of-the-art mental health services and barriers to their accessibility. Accordingly, the final chapter of the report goes on to explore opportunities to overcome barriers to implementing the recommendation and to have seeking help lead to effective treatment.

The final chapter identifies the following courses of action.

  1. Continue to Build the Science Base: Today, integrative neuroscience and molecular genetics present some of the most exciting basic research opportunities in medical science. A plethora of new pharmacologic agents and psychotherapies for mental disorders afford new treatment opportunities but also challenge the scientific community to develop new approaches to clinical and health services interventions research. Because the vitality and feasibility of clinical research hinges on the willing participation of clinical research volunteers, it is important for society to ensure that concerns about protections for vulnerable research subjects are addressed. Responding to the calls of managed mental and behavioral health care systems for evidence-based interventions will have a much needed and discernible impact on practice. Special effort is required to address pronounced gaps in the mental health knowledge base. Key among these are the urgent need for evidence which supports strategies for mental health promotion and illness prevention. Additionally, research that explores approaches for reducing risk factors and strengthening protective factors for the prevention of mental illness should be encouraged. As noted throughout the report, high-quality research and the effective services it promotes are a potent weapon against stigma.
  2. Overcome Stigma: Powerful and pervasive, stigma prevents people from acknowledging their own mental health problems, much less disclosing them to others. For our Nation to reduce the burden of mental illness, to improve access to care, and to achieve urgently needed knowledge about the brain, mind, and behavior, stigma must no longer be tolerated. Research on brain and behavior that continues to generate ever more effective treatments for mental illnesses is a potent antidote to stigma. The issuance of this Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health seeks to help reduce stigma by dispelling myths about mental illness, by providing accurate knowledge to ensure more informed consumers, and by encouraging help seeking by individuals experiencing mental health problems.
  3. Improve Public Awareness of Effective Treatment: Americans are often unaware of the choices they have for effective mental health treatments. In fact, there exists a constellation of several treatments of documented efficacy for most mental disorders. Treatments fall mainly under several broad categories—counseling, psychotherapy, medication therapy, rehabilitation—yet within each category are many more choices. All human services professionals, not just health professionals, have an obligation to be better informed about mental health treatment resources in their communities and should encourage individuals to seek help from any source in which they have confidence.
  4. Ensure the Supply of Mental Health Services and Providers: The fundamental components of effective service delivery, which include integrated community-based services, continuity of providers and treatments, family support services (including psychoeducation), and culturally sensitive services, are broadly agreed upon, yet certain of these and other mental health services are in consistently short supply, both regionally and, in some instances, nationally. Because the service system as a whole, as opposed to treatment services considered in isolation, dictates the outcome of recovery-oriented mental health care, it is imperative to expand the supply of effective, evidence-based services throughout the Nation. Key personnel shortages include mental health professionals serving children/adolescents and older people with serious mental disorders and specialists with expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, two forms of psychotherapy that research has shown to be effective for several severe mental disorders. For adults and children with less severe conditions, primary health care, the schools, and other human services must be prepared to assess and, at times, to treat individuals who come seeking help.
  5. Ensure Delivery of State-of-the-Art Treatments: A wide variety of effective, community-based services, carefully refined through years of research, exist for even the most severe mental illnesses yet are not being translated into community settings. Numerous explanations for the gap between what is known from research and what is practiced beg for innovative strategies to bridge it.
  6. Tailor Treatment to Age, Gender, Race, and Culture: Mental illness, no less than mental health, is influenced by age, gender, race, and culture as well as additional facets of diversity that can be found within all of these population groups—for example, physical disability or a person’s sexual orientation choices. To be effective, the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness must be tailored to all characteristics that shape a person’s image and identity. The consequences of not understanding these influences can be profoundly deleterious. “Culturally competent” services incorporate understanding of racial and ethnic groups, their histories, traditions, beliefs, and value systems. With appropriate training and a fundamental respect for clients, any mental health professional can provide culturally competent services that reflect sensitivity to individual differences and, at the same time, assign validity to an individual’s group identity. Nonetheless, the preference of many members of ethnic and racial minority groups to be treated by mental health professionals of similar background underscores the need to redress the current insufficient supply of mental health professionals who are members of racial and ethnic minority groups.
  7. Facilitate Entry Into Treatment: Public and private agencies have an obligation to facilitate entry into mental health care and treatment through the multiple “portals of entry” that exist: primary health care, schools, and the child welfare system. To enhance adherence to treatment, agencies should offer services that are responsive to the needs and preferences of service users and their families. At the same time, some agencies receive inappropriate referrals. For example, an alarming number of children and adults with mental illness are in the criminal justice system inappropriately. Importantly, assuring the small number of individuals with severe mental disorders who pose a threat of danger to themselves or others ready access to adequate and appropriate services promises to reduce significantly the need for coercion in the form of involuntary commitment to a hospital and/or certain outpatient treatment requirements that have been legislated in most states and territories. Coercion should not be a substitute for effective care that is sought voluntarily; consensus on this point testifies to the need for research designed to enhance adherence to treatment.
  8. Reduce Financial Barriers to Treatment: Concerns about the cost of care—concerns made worse by the disparity in insurance coverage for mental disorders in contrast to other illnesses—are among the foremost reasons why people do not seek needed mental health care. While both access to and use of mental health services increase when benefits for those services are enhanced, preliminary data show that the effectiveness—and, thus, the value—of mental health care also has increased in recent years, while expenditures for services, under managed care, have fallen. Equality between mental health coverage and other health coverage—a concept known as parity—is an affordable and effective objective.

Scope of Coverage of the Report
This report is comprehensive but not exhaustive in its coverage of mental health and mental illness. It considers mental health facets of some conditions which are not always associated with the mental disorders and does not consider all conditions which can be found in classifications of mental disorders such as DSM-IV. The report includes, for example, a discussion of autism in Chapter 3 and provides an extensive section on Alzheimer's disease in Chapter 5. Although DSM-IV lists specific mental disorder criteria for both of these conditions, they often are viewed as being outside the scope of the mental health field. In both cases, mental health professionals are involved in the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions, often characterized by cognitive and behavioral impairments. The developmental disabilities and mental retardation are not discussed except in passing in this report. These conditions were considered to be beyond its scope with a care system all their own and very special needs. The same is generally true for the addictive disorders, such as alcohol and other drug use disorders. The latter, however, co-occur with such frequency with the other mental disorders, which are the focus of this report, that the co-occurrence is discussed throughout. The report covers the epidemiology of addictive disorders and their co-occurrence with other mental disorders as well as the treatment of co-occurring conditions. Brief sections on substance abuse in adolescence and late life also are included in the report.

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