We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, Since Mad Men :: World Mental Health Day
Having lived sans cable for the past five years or so, when I’m in the mood for some network entertainment I usually turn to Netflix and usually delve head first into a series. Mad Men, the hit AMC series about advertising men in the 60s, is my latest vice, and I’ve been going gang-busters through the first few seasons recently. I never knew I would be so fascinated by the lifestyles of the 1960s, but I can’t get enough! While keeping in mind the fact that everything is amplified for television, I’m riveted by the complicated gendered relationships between men and women, the parenting styles, the political climate, and, of course, the portrayal of mental health. Oh, and the hairstyles. I love those.
What’s so fascinating about Mad Men is that it offers a glimpse into how far we’ve come – and haven’t come – in our social development. Mental health is no exception. When Betty Draper notices numbness in her hands and discovers that this could be psychosomatic, she urges her husband Don to allow her to attend therapy. Don is at first incredulous about the idea of his wife confiding in a stranger to solve her seemingly physical ailment, but when the problems continue he relents. What we soon discover, however, is that Don is keeping close tabs on his wife’s sessions, getting a full report from her psychiatrist after each meeting.
My jaw literally dropped when I saw this exchange transpire, but then I reminded myself just how long fifty years is in the world of mental health. It was only in 1996 that former President Clinton enacted the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act – HIPPA – that provided protection for individuals’ health information being communicated. Just to be clear, in today’s world, one would need to give explicit permission for a partner to receive information about one’s treatment. And detailed information about one’s sessions would virtually never be revealed.
In fact, a lot has changed in the world of mental health since the days of Betty and Don Draper. To put in context, here are some of the developments in the past fifty years:
1966 – Alcohol abuse and dependence were finally recognized as a major public health issue, and federally-funded organizations were developed to research these illnesses. We’re still trying to establish the the exact causes of alcoholism, and genetic research is helping us understand it’s biological roots.
1970 – The FDA approved the use of lithium to treat mania. This revolutionary drug drastically reduced the number of days spent in inpatient hospital. It’s also credited with sharply reducing the number of suicides in areas where it was prescribed.
1976 – The number of people in psychiatric hospitals was dropping dramatically as an emphasis on treating individuals in their own communities developed. While giving individuals tools for community-living was important, many patients were pushed out on to the streets still ill-equipped to manage their illness. Some became victims of trauma – individual and institutionalized.
1978 – Many people still claimed that autism was caused by refrigerator mothers, parents that offered a “genuine lack of maternal warmth.” While we still aren’t clear on the causes of autism today, we’re generally agree cold moms are not to blame.
1986 – Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the Bible for mental health practitioners) as a diagnosis. It took this long despite compelling research in the 1940 and 1950s by the likes of Alfred Kinsey, Evelyn Hooker, and others. No one ever claimed that the American Psychiatric Association was speedy on these things.
1989 – Former President Bush signed a proclamation establishing the 1990s as the Decade of the Brain. The 90s saw an enormous boon in research on genetics and the brain. By 2000, genetic researchers had finished mapping human genes. The goal is to help identify specific genes and how they are associated with various illnesses. [Are eating disorders brain disorders?]
2002 – New Mexico allows psychologists (not, psychiatrists – click here if you’re not sure of the difference), to prescribe psychotropic medication. Hotly debated, but the future may hold more prescription privileges for appropriately trained psychologists.
2008 – The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed. This landmark legislation required insurance companies that offer mental health benefits to provide coverage on-par with medical coverage. Unfortunately there are still many insurance companies that are trying to sneak around this, and eating disorders are often not covered.
2010 – Nourishing the Soul was born! (Sorry, had to add that in there!)
As you can see, while advances in mental health may seem to progress at a snail’s pace in real time, in the context of our history we’ve made great strides in this field. And what has universally propelled this forward movement has been the willingness of invested parties to speak up. Whether as a clinician speaking up on behalf of your patients, as a concerned family member advocating for your loved one, or as a consumer of mental health services sharing your struggle, putting these issues at the forefront has meant everything.
So on World Mental Health Day 2011, I urge you to use your voice to keep the momentum going. This week, write a blog post about the role of mental health services in your life, share your story with a friend who might need to hear it, or even lobby in Washington. Whatever you do, remember that mental health is health, and it takes our voices make sure it gets the respect and recognition that it deserves.
For more World Mental Health Day posts, head over to PsychCentral. How are you recognizing the importance of mental health in your life today?