6 Ways to Improve Our Mental "Wealth"

June 21, 2016
H. Steven Moffic, MD

Do you think we can-and should-increase our mental wealth? If so, what would you recommend?

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
–United Negro College Fund

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked . . .
–from Howl, by Allen Ginsberg

Dedicated to the victims, direct and indirect, of the Orlando tragedy.

May was Mental Health Month. Maybe next year it should be re-named Mental Wealth Month. Why? With notable exceptions, as with some presidents1 and historical religious prophets, a decline in mental health is detrimental to the well-being of a person and society.

However, although our current presidential candidates have focused on economic wealth, little has been said about our mental wealth, which is arguably the major contributor to what has made America great.

Here are some of the ways our mental wealth might be increased:

1. Prevention of mental disorders

We now know enough to prevent some psychiatric disorders. The reduction of trauma, the building of resilience, and addressing substance abuse would all have mental health payoffs.

The home, school, and integrated medical services all contribute to this wealth. The workplace needs to prevent burnout and chronic stress that detracts from the valued meaning of one’s occupation.

Do you think we can-and should-increase our mental wealth? If so, what would you recommend?

2. Early intervention

For almost any mental disorder, early diagnosis and the initiation of appropriate treatment is valuable. To do so, a diagnosis must be carefully made and unnecessary treatments avoided.

3. Belief in recovery

The adoption of a recovery model over recent years has been an antidote for the hopelessness that many patients, families, and caregivers have had about the outcome of chronic and most serious mental illness.

Indeed, some can recover without extensive and ongoing treatment if they live in a supportive and understanding community that will embrace them.

4. Adequate funding

Mental wealth requires adequate funding for the mental health services that range from a reduction in poverty and discrimination to the implementation of high-quality inpatient services.

5. Transparency

Like many social groups that face discrimination, persons with mental illness are going public to tell their stories. This helps normalize psychiatric illness and reduces stigma.

6. Cognitive enhancement

Although controversial from an ethical standpoint,2 many people are trying to enhance their mental abilities, even if haphazardly and even illegally.

This includes using medication or street drugs to increase focus, technology to boost our intelligence, exercise to increase brain health, and nutrition or hormones to go beyond our natural abilities. The key to this quest is to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks and if they are available equitably.

Do you think we can-and should-increase our mental wealth? If so, what would you recommend?

References:

1. Ghaemi N. A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness. New York: Penquin Books; 2012.

2. Savulescu J, Bostrom N, Sahakian B, et al. Cognitive enhancement. Oxford Center for Neuroethics. http://www.neuroethics.ox.ac.uk/research/area_1. Accessed June 14, 2016.