Apathy is a feeling of not feeling. It’s also an attitude of not caring, or in the case of the Amercian public, not caring enough.

“[Apathetic people] just don’t care enough, and they don’t care that they don’t care.”

Leon Seltzer, Ph.D

Where will this apathy get us, especially when it comes to the most pervasive issue of our time…depression? Nowhere. And if left undeterred, it could actually make the quality of life in the U.S. even worse.

A major study co-sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that while nearly 80% of adult respondents agreed mental health treatment was necessary and effective in the fight against mental illness, some 67% agreed most people are less caring and empathetic toward those with mental illness.1

Obviously, this is a problem. A really big problem.

“Beware of apathy–it can be your worst enemy.”

Leon Seltzer, Ph.D

One in five Americans experiences a mental health condition in a given year.2 That’s approximately 43.8 million people. And when it comes to the most common forms of depression (major clinical, persistent, psychotic, post-traumatic shock syndrome, bipolar disorder and postpartum), the number of people we are talking about is nearly 30% or 13 million of the total population of the mentally ill.

Sadly, roughly 45% of those with some form of depression either seek or receive health or medical services to help them.4 If you’re counting, that’s almost 5 million people. What about the other 8 million?

When you consider how that feels personally, individually, that’s 8 million people out there who don’t just perpetually feel sad, they are irritated and angered by minor matters, they are always anxious and restless, they have lost interest in those things that used to bring them joy, they are fixed on what went wrong in their past, they either can’t sleep or sleep too much, they suffer from debilitating fatigue, they can’t remember like they used to, they are either always hungry or can’t eat at all, they avoid being amongst other people, they can’t concentrate or stay focused on any task at hand, they have trouble making decisions, they have phantom pains and aches, and they keep thinking about death and dying…sometimes at their own hands.5

In “The Curse of Apathy,” Seltzer likens our national condition regarding the incidence of depression to that of Stage 4 for a cancer patient. He asks, would you wait for cancer to advance to Stage 4 before getting serious about treating it? Of course not. But that is exactly what we as a nation are doing right now about depression in this country, Seltzer contends.2

Mental Health American suggests we as a country may still have time, but we need to act now before the problem reaches stage 4. First, though we must change the way we think about mental health, hence the creation of the national mental health awareness program called B4Stage4.6

The Persistent Stigma

Depression Affects Millions of Teenage Boys in America There is a public stigma regarding mental illness in America, says Angela Parcesepe. It presents a pervasive barrier for our most needy patients from getting appropriate mental health care. Studies show that over the last 25 years this stigma has actually increased, resulting in growing discrimination toward those with mental health issues, and further entrenching negative attitudes toward treatment and the ultimate cost of it. Many give lip service to the need for increased treatment for the depressed among us, but those same lips balk when it comes to putting more money where their mouths are.7

Surveys still show that many people still feel the mentally ill are dangerous and more likely to commit a criminal act, that having a mental disorder is shameful and that the truth is they are really just lazy or incompetent. Paradoxically, while there is a greater awareness of the reality of mental disorder as a serious health matter that needs greater attention, there is little or no change in perceptions about the effectiveness of treatment and recovery from mental illness.7

“There is perhaps no other mental illness that is more misunderstood or misrepresented than depression.”

Health Line

Things America needs to wake up to, admit and understand if this country is ever going to get to a place where potential patients feel less fear admitting they are depressed, as well as concerned citizens, feeling more like it’s worth the cost and open up their pocketbooks as needed:

Depression is…

  • a form of mental illness that is a treatable disease
  • serious and can only get worse if left untreated
  • not a negative reflection on the person with it
  • not a psychosomatic choice
  • can be completely debilitating.8

Effective treatments run the gamut of anti-depressant medication, psychological counseling, extended light therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy, to name a few. They cost a lot now, but can you imagine how much they are going to cost if we let this problem continue to build up momentum?8

Why We Must Act…Now!

We can no longer afford to have a stigma about mental illness, especially depression. It’s time to put our big boy and girl pants on and deal with this monster before it eats us alive.

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability in persons aged 15-44.
  • Depression is the primary reason someone dies by suicide every 13 minutes.
  • Depression causes 490 million disability days from work each year.
  • Depression accounts for $23 billion in lost work days every year.
  • Depression takes an economic toll of over $100 billion each year from U.S. businesses.9

If 99% of All Mental Illness Involves Depression

If, as experts say, that almost all mental illnesses involve depression, to one degree or another, then imagine the following problems getting further out of solution’s reach.

  1. 26% of our homeless have a mental illness.
  2. 20% of our incarcerated youth and adults have a mental illness.
  3. Less than half of all the mentally ill receive treatment.
  4. Caucasians have mental illness 1/2 as much as their African and Hispanic counterparts.
  5. More than 50% of all mental illnesses present by age 14.
  6. These numbers have been on the increase the last 3 decades.3

The Consequences of Ignoring Depression

If we do not act, and the population of America’s mentally ill continues to increase, we will more than not be able to afford it. If everything stays the same, and our numbers of depressed alone continue to increase, so will the number of mentally ill persons that are not treated.

  1. Increasing homeless population.
  2. Increasing juvenile and adult incarceration population.
  3. Further disenfranchisement of African and Hispanic Americans.
  4. An increase of school dropouts.
  5. An increase in suicides.

Let’s hope we have not as a culture already passed the point of no return with regard to being able to positively and productively deal with our mentally ill. Some think we already have. Some, like me, think there is still time.

“The trend lines are obvious…Americans are, over time, experiencing worse and worse symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.”

Jesse Singal, “For 80 Years, Young Americans Have Been Getting More Anxious and Depressed,” Jesse Singal, 2016.

1 “Attitudes Toward Mental Illness,” DHS, CDC, SAMHSA and NIMH, 2012.
2 “The Curse of Apathy,” Leon Seltzer, Psychology Today, 2016.
3 “Mental Health by the Numbers,” National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2018.
4 “Major Depression,” National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 2016.
5 “Depression and Mental Health by the Numbers, Facts, Statistics, and You,” Ann Pietrangelo, Health Line.
6 “The B4Stage4 Philosophy,” Mental Health America, 2018.
7 “Public Stigma of Mental Illness ins the United States,” Angela Parcesepe, Administrative Policy for Mental Health.
8 “The American Stigma of Depression,” Elevations, Health Line, 2017.
9 “Depression Facts,” Hope for Depression Research Foundation, 2018.

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