Part of the Hiding in Plain Sight blog series
Written by Kee Dunning, author & psychotherapist providing crisis intervention
March 18, 2022 / Forbes
“When it comes to mental health, I’ve come to feel that the house is on fire and we have to find ways to actually put it out,” said Dr. Thomas Insel. “And it’s not just the chemistry of the paint. We have to think much more comprehensively.”
Dr. Thomas Insel is an American neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and author. He led the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from 2002 through 2015. Prior to becoming Director of NIMH, Dr. Insel was the founding Director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
He is also co-founder of Mindstrong Health, Humanest Care, NeuraWell Therapeutics, and MindSite News, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan, digital journalism organization dedicated to reporting on mental health in America. He serves on the boards of several for-profits and not-for-profit mental health ventures.
He left his position atop the mental health research world to investigate the mental health crisis in America—and what a better path to mental health might look like. His new book Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health, published in February 2022, recounts his discoveries. He believes that the cures for the crisis are not just medical, but social, environmental, and political. This path to healing, built upon what he calls the three Ps (people, place, and purpose), is more straightforward than we might imagine.
Dr. Insel offers a comprehensive plan for what he describes as “our failing system,” in a plan for families trying to discern the way forward.
“The broken care system is part of the problem,” said Dr. Insel. “But when we talk about mental health we have to talk about more than mental health care. It’s the lack of a safety net. It’s the lack of a focus on recovery. It’s the lack of anything resembling adequate prevention..”
Dr. Insel wrote Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health to raise awareness. He also wants those reading his book to gain a sense of hope.
“If the inconvenient truth is that we are in a mental health crisis, the inconspicuous truth is that we already have the solutions,” said Dr. Insel. “We actually know enough to do much, much better. We don’t have to send people with mental disorders to jail or allow them to become homeless. Science has already given us good treatments for mental disorders, now we have to commit ourselves to use those treatments to help people recover.”
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020, which represents 1 in 5 adults. 75% of all mental health issues occur before the age of 24. Most of us know more people who battle mental illness, than those who don’t. Today, there are approximately 356,000 inmates with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons, according to treatmentadvocacycenter.org. “That’s just an injustice that we must address and fix,” said Dr. Insel. “There are ten times as many people with serious mental illness in our criminal justice system as in our public hospital system.”
Identifying the flaws in our health care system is not meant to blame health care workers. “That’s like blaming field biologists for climate change,” said Dr. Insel. “Calling out this crisis is simply recognizing that change is long overdue. The whole point is not to point fingers but to point to the solutions. We have to build capacity. We have to connect people to care. And we have to create the safety net that supports recovery.”
To achieve this goal, we must have a “people-first” approach.
“As a society, we need to ensure that individuals coping with mental illnesses have the tools and services to prevent homelessness, food insecurity, needless incarceration, and suicide,” said Dr. Insel. “The criminal justice system is just not the best place for people in a mental health crisis. They need compassion, not punishment.”
Dr. Insel explains, “For me, it’s about starting a social movement around mental health. That’s really why I wrote the book. It’s why I started MindSite News, and why I’m so excited about a new documentary, executive produced by Ken Burns, Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, a film by Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers, premiering on PBS on June 27 & 28 at 9 pm ET.”
Each of us has a role to play because all of us have been or will be affected by mental illness. We don’t talk about it, but every family has a story. And every family should know that there is hope. There is a path from mental illness to mental health.
About the Author
Kee Dunning is a psychotherapist in private practice, adjunct faculty and author, writing on topics such as rural youth suicide risk assessment and intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy, teen dating abuse, bullying, and concepts in communication, anger and conflict management. For nearly two decades, Kee has provided crisis intervention for triage for homeless, trafficked, and at-risk youth and families and their support systems; and was Clinical Supervisor for Graduate Studies in Counseling at Montana State University.
The “Hiding in Plain Sight” Blog is a series leading to the upcoming 2022 documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns, and presented by WETA, the PBS flagship station in our nation’s capital.