Finding the Cure for Mental Illness

“When it comes to mental health, I feel like the house is on fire and we need to find ways to put it out,” said Dr Thomas Insel. “And it’s not just paint chemistry. We need to think much more globally.

Dr. Thomas Insel is an American neuroscientist, psychiatrist, and author. He directed the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from 2002 to 2015. Prior to becoming director of the 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, Most human care, NeuraWell Therapyand MindSite News, a new nonprofit, nonpartisan digital journalism organization dedicated to reporting on mental health in America. He sits on the boards of several for-profit and not-for-profit mental health companies.

He left his position at the top of the mental health research world to investigate America’s mental health crisis and the best path to mental health. His new book Healing: Our journey from mental illness to mental health, published in February 2022, chronicles his findings. He believes the remedies for the crisis are not just medical, but social, environmental and political. This path to healing, built on what he calls the three Ps (people, place and purpose), is simpler than we imagine.

Dr. Insel offers a comprehensive blueprint for what he describes as “our broken system,” in a blueprint for families trying to discern the way forward.

“The failing healthcare system is part of the problem,” Dr. Insel said. “But when we talk about mental health, we need to talk about more than mental health care. It’s the lack of a safety net. It’s the lack of focus on recovery. It is the lack of anything resembling adequate prevention.

Dr. Insel wrote Healing: Our journey from mental illness to mental health to raise awareness. He also wants those who read his book to gain a sense of hope.

“If the inconvenient truth is that we are in a mental health crisis, the soft truth is that we already have the solutions,” Dr. Insel said. “In fact, we 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 must commit to using these treatments to help people recover.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), 21% of American adults suffered from mental illness in 2020, representing 1 in 5 adults. 75% of all mental health problems occur before the age of 24. Most of us know more people who struggle with 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. “It’s just an injustice that we need to address and fix,” Dr Insel said. “There are ten times more people with serious mental illness in our criminal justice system than in our public hospital system.

Identifying flaws in our healthcare system is not about blaming healthcare workers. “It’s like blaming field biologists for climate change,” Dr Insel said. “To speak out against this crisis is simply to recognize that change is long overdue. The point is not to point fingers but to point to the solutions. We need to build capacity. We need to connect people to care. And we need to create the safety net that supports the recovery.”

To achieve this goal, we must have a “people-first” approach.

“As a society, we must ensure that people with mental illness have the tools and services necessary to prevent homelessness, food insecurity, unnecessary incarceration and suicide,” said the Dr. Insel. “The criminal justice system is simply not the best place for people in 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. That’s why I started MindSite News, and why I’m so excited about a new documentary, produced by Ken Burns, Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, a film by Erik Ewers and Christopher Loren Ewers, airs on PBS June 27-28 at 9 p.m. ET.

Each of us has a role to play because we have all 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 that leads from mental illness to mental health.


the “Hiding in Plain Sight” Blog is a series leading up to the upcoming 2022 documentary Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness (wt) produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, produced by Ken Burns and presented by WETA, PBS’ flagship station in our Nation’s Capital.

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You’re not alone. If you or someone you know is in crisis, whether or not they are considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Lifeline toll-free at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also send an SMS. Crisis Text Line offers free mental health support. Text “10-18” or “SCRUBS” to 741741 for assistance. Call and SMS lines are open 24 hours a day.

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