People with mental illnesses are impacted by public policy in a variety of ways, ranging from health care to housing to incarceration. Policy changes can lead to better treatments, expanded access to resources, and better results for those suffering from mental illnesses. However, poor policy can also have negative effects on individuals' lives.
In terms of health care, policy affects mental health by determining what services are available and who gets to decide which services will be provided. For example, the federal Mental Health Parity Act requires most health insurers to offer equal coverage for medical and psychological treatments for mental illness. If this law had not been passed, many people would not have access to parity because most health insurers use cost as a reason to deny coverage or provide less than full benefits. The Affordable Care Act includes an expansion of Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income people, including those with mental illnesses. Prior to this expansion, many states did not cover psychiatric treatment or medications as part of their Medicaid programs.
With respect to housing, policy impacts mental health by determining who is allowed to rent or own certain types of property. For example, under current Federal Law, people with mental illnesses cannot be denied rental accommodations or otherwise discriminated against by landlords or other property owners. This protection applies even if the person has a history of violent behavior or suffers from delusions or hallucinations.
Because mental illness imposes a significant burden on societies (2), impedes the achievement of other health and development goals, and contributes to poverty, it is critical to encourage governments to implement mental health policies and to integrate mental health policies into public health policies and general social policies (1).
Mental disorders are common - according to one estimate, approximately 40% of the world's population has a mental disorder - and they are responsible for substantial disability. Depression is the most common mental disorder in high-income countries, with an estimated 300 million people suffering from some form of depression (3). Bipolar disorder is also quite common, with an estimated 2.4 million people affected in Europe (4).
People with mental illnesses experience many barriers to receiving appropriate treatment. These include lack of access to quality care, as well as sociocultural factors such as stigma and discrimination that prevent individuals from seeking help.
Given its impact on society and its resistance to change, it is not surprising that governments all over the world have begun to take action to improve mental health care.
Stigma and prejudice can also exacerbate someone's mental health problems and delay or obstruct their access to support and treatment, as well as their recovery. Social isolation, substandard housing, unemployment, and poverty are all associated with mental illness. As a result, stigma and prejudice can imprison people in a vicious circle of disease. Changing public opinion and awareness about mental illness is therefore essential if we want to reduce the negative effects that this condition has on individuals' lives.
There are many factors that may lead to mental illness being viewed negatively by society. Mental illness is often associated with violence and crime, so people may believe that those who suffer from it must be dangerous and untrustworthy. They may also assume that those who go through such difficulties must have done something wrong to deserve them. Finally, some people may feel that mental illness is a personal choice that should be respected even though it cannot be cured.
All over the world, people with mental illnesses face discrimination in employment, education, living conditions, and access to health care. In some countries, they may be excluded from citizenship tests or other examinations that determine whether an individual is eligible for certain rights. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 100 million people worldwide suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. It is also estimated that between 5% and 10% of the global population will experience severe mental disorders at some point in their life.
Socioeconomic variables (such as gender, social class, race and ethnicity, and household patterns) and social institutions impact the majority of characteristics of mental disease and psychological well-being (such as disability and social security systems, labor markets, and health care organizations)...
The quality and quantity of social relationships affects mental health. Studies have shown that lack of social support is one of the most important factors in predicting who will develop depression or anxiety disorders.
Mental health also depends on our ability to cope with life's challenges. Stressful events are major causes of mental illness. The way we deal with these events influences whether we become depressed or anxious.
Social factors influence how people cope with stressors by directing their attention toward others or themselves. Someone who receives much support from others experiences less distress when faced with stressful situations than someone who lacks support.
People who feel connected to other people and society at large are more likely to be healthy and able to cope with stress than those who do not.
Finally, mental health is affected by societal attitudes about what constitutes a normal range of behavior for men and women, acceptance of various lifestyles, and so forth.
These attitudes are shaped by cultural values which in turn are influenced by politics and religion. For example, some cultures discourage mental illness because it is seen as a sign of weakness.