By Bart Magee, Ph.D.
In my last post, I questioned why we haven’t yet witnessed a declared goal from any government agency, professional organization, or major institution to end mental illness. I reviewed the fractured history of how we theorize disorders of the mind and formulate their treatment, a history that goes part of the way to explaining why we’ve been held back from such an ambitious objective. But there’s more to the story. It’s not enough to say that mental illness is such a complex problem that a total solution can’t be conceived. For other difficult problems, like poverty, or cancer, or human trafficking, ending or eliminating the problem absolutely is the stated goal. Go to Google and write “ending” in front of any of those issues and you’ll see books, articles, and organizational goals clearly aiming to solve the problem — for good. If you do the same for mental illness you won’t find the same determination. (The closest you’ll get will be demands to end mental health stigma or discrimination against the mentally ill.) Solving those other big social problems won’t be any easier than truly tackling mental illness. However, stating the aspirational aim to end poverty or any other deeply-rooted affliction is imperative even if you recognize that the road to reaching that goal isn’t yet mapped out. Not only is it a way to inspire, to marshal resources, and get the needed attention on the problem, it also says something important about the problem; it creates a narrative of the issue. It says that the problem’s causes can be discovered and addressed, and more importantly, that the problem itself is fundamentally unacceptable, and therefore, that we bear a moral responsibility to work toward its eradication.