Dealing with ‘disease’ is more important than treating symptoms

Published 6:58 am Saturday, September 22, 2018

Our societal woes dominate the news week in and week out: drugs, violence, crime, greed and basically all the other sins that go back to the commandments and the Old Testament.

But as a society, it seems we spend way more time talking about the “symptoms” rather than the “disease.”

And in this case it is quite literal.

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Very little attention is given to the root cause of many of these issues: mental illness and the lack of treatment for those.

Depression. Bipolar disorder. Anxiety. Obsessive compulsive behavior. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The list goes on and on.

Collectively, mental illnesses pose as significant a health crisis to our citizens as anything else but they rarely get discussed in meaningful ways that can spark changes.

Cynics will downplay the level to which this is a public health crisis, often just blaming negative outcomes on poor decisions. But even if depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive behavior are simply patterns of thinking, does it make them any less dangerous?

The answer is no.

Health professionals will tell you that, for every diagnosed case of mental illness, thousands more go undetected.

That means they also go untreated.

Now is the time for us to take a long, hard look at our entire healthcare system through the lens of what it would take to help individuals to, first, identify the issues they are facing and, secondly, to treat them.

Yes, you could argue these are somewhat first-world problems, but that isn’t exactly true either. They just don’t get addressed in underdeveloped countries either.

If we truly want America to be the greatest country in the world, we have to start having real, honest conversations about our societal flaws that lay just under the surface.

Popular fiction author John Green, perhaps most famous for his novel and subsequent movie “The Fault in Our Stars,” tackled this issue in his most recent book “Turtles All the Way Down.”

The main character, 16-year-old Aza Holmes, deals with her own mental illnesses throughout the book and Green offers some insightful commentary on the challenges those create.

Aza thinks to herself, “Dr. Karen Singh liked to say that an unwanted thought was like a car driving past you when you’re standing on the side of the road, and I told myself I didn’t have to get into that car, that my moment of choice was not whether to have the thought, but whether to be carried away by it. And then I got in the car.”

Some people will say that mental health is such a personal issue that no one else should get involved and any government focus is wrong.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In fact, from the very beginning, government has had a role in this, albeit indirectly.

The Declaration of Independence states that we “are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

None of those are possible when trapped in the cage of our own minds and thoughts.

The only way we will ever identify successful treatments is to acknowledge that we have a legitimate problem.

Michael Caldwell is interim publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 469-6400 or by email at