By David Satcher M.D. and Mehmet Oz M.D.
Pixar recently released an intriguing new movie this week that playfully follows an adolescent and her parents through the lens of their five personified emotions -- fear, anger, joy sadness, disgust. The title Inside Out tells the whole story since this is how the happy mind evolves. The movie works because most Americans are aware of this challenging reality.
Research reveals that Americans value emotional health more than physical health, an acknowledgement of the magnitude of this issue and its dominating influence in our search for happiness. According to the study, roughly two-thirds of Americans report that they know how mental wellness can be attained. But only half have access to the resources (health insurance, discretionary income) needed to help them reach the goal of emotional well-being. External observations support these insights. This month's alarming report that alcoholism affects roughly 1 in 7 Americans sent a shiver down our collective spines. This is higher than expected and reveals that we are slipping in our quest for healthy minds.
Of course, the stigma surrounding admission of mental illness also holds many back from seeking support. Nearly half of Americans will not turn to others for support even though only a minority report being "very satisfied" with the current state of well-being, according to an Edelman report. Even when someone seeks help, many find the process daunting as they get referred from nurse to doctor to specialist and back again. And even when robust expertise and help exist, access to professionals and reimbursement has lagged far behind similarly important chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Over 45 million Americans are living in poverty. Among other things, crises of poverty remove a sense of control that all humans need to cope with life. The realities of poverty can largely contribute to poor physical and mental health and also addictive behaviors, thus the startlingly high alcoholism figures. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane."
What is going on? We have some systemic obstacles and this mandates a public health mobilization. Surgeons General Reports on mental health have historically pointed us in the right direction, yet we surprisingly have never had one on addiction and recovery from the disease. The good news is these obstacles are now more surmountable than ever. We can even save America money while improving mental health which translates to great VALUE. For example, Dr. Satcher's research team reduced reduced the psychiatry length of stay at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital ER by 45 minutes per patient, which over the course of a year would cut wait time by over 1,700 hours; a potential savings of $77,300 with that system improvement alone.
Federal regulations will also become active this summer which compel health care payers to value mental health treatment services at the same level of care of other conditions. This means that if, for instance, an insurance company pays for a patient to see a diabetes specialist (almost all do), then it must equally provide for patients to see mental health professionals. This represents a seismic shift in how the health care system values the problem. The major financial barrier to help will drop away, but the shortage of mental health care providers in many communities demands that we also seek holistic solutions to achieving mental well-being.
The self help movement and lots of home-grown experience support the value of getting people to create communities that support each other. Programs like the Doctor Oz Show showcase "best practices" and practical insights from organizations like the National Council for Behavioral Health and the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. Health programming also promotes practices to help people live with consciousness and awareness, kidnapping anxieties and freeing the brain to enjoy the moment. Many joyful people even keep "gratitude journals" and have come to recognize that emotional wellness is found right inside of us, and it is free!
Leaders in our nation's mental health struggle can collaborate with media to motivate all Americans to fight for their health and well-being, and this should be a labor of love rather than an embarrassment. As Surgeon General, Dr. Satcher was often asked what people should do to live a happy and healthy life. Part of his "prescription" promotes mental health through physical activity (at least 30 minutes each day, five days a week), daily relaxation and stress-reducing activities, and adequate sleep.
We need the support of others in our lives. Call a friend every day. But we also need to set aside some quiet morning (or afternoon or evening) time to spend alone. If you have the time to play mobile video games or check your news feed, you have time -- even if it's five minutes -- to turn off your screen and focus on your emotional health. Whether this is through prayer or meditation or simply sitting quietly in a serene place, the "mornings" of our lives can give us the strength from within to achieve optimal mental health.
Finally, most of us want to leave our families and planet better off when we are done with our visit. But this is not just about helping other people. Being a force for good benefits us as well. At our core, we all need connection and growth to find purpose, and this must be bigger than and outside of ourselves. The nice side effect of your journey is that you can find pleasure in life.