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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Why it pays to support mental health and the costs are high if we don’t

The Convention and Visitors Bureau rebranded as Visit Fort Worth. The regional transportation authority is now Trinity Metro and has embarked on a 20-year plan to support economic development. The growing Blue Zones movement aims to make Fort Worth a healthier place to live. The film commission lures film and music production to our city.

These noble endeavors and others share a mutual goal: to grow our economy and our sociocultural landscape.

But we may be giving short shrift to a critical piece of the puzzle.

World Health Organization data show that by 2030 — in just over a decade — the negative global economic impact of mental illness will be about $6 trillion. To put that in perspective, $6 trillion is about the same as the GDPs of the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico and Switzerland combined. In Tarrant County, the last U.S. census shows there are roughly 404,000 people receiving or in need of mental health services — and an abysmal mental health clinician-to-patient ratio of 1 to 92. From missed days at work to missed opportunities at innovation, mental illness costs our community more than cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease combined.

As we strive to create new economic and sociocultural opportunities for our community, we would be wise to support healing for our most valuable resource — our people — so that we may have the vibrant workforce to fill these new jobs, harmonious minds to think these new ideas and the collective cognizance required to navigate us as we pioneer a new economic frontier. Some lesser-known endeavors, deserving of our attention, already strive to support healing the minds and hearts of the people in our community.

Mental Health and Trauma Resilience

Oprah Winfrey, the zeitgeist whisperer, recently appeared on 60 Minutes to rally the nation to address a crucial aspect of mental health — trauma.

Dr. Bruce Perry, a world-renowned psychiatrist, says that those who have experienced trauma — whether through instances commonly associated with trauma such as abuse, neglect, violence or tragedy, or those not normally associated, like bullying, divorce or loss of a job — are more vulnerable and more likely to struggle with mental health.

Winfrey drove home that trauma statistically correlates to problems such as cyclical poverty, joblessness, homelessness, obesity, addiction and incarceration. And a National Institutes of Health study, reported in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, states that nearly 90 percent of us have been or will be exposed to trauma, and that multiple exposures have now become the norm.

Thankfully, a local trauma resilience movement is growing fast. Trauma resilience is a person’s ability to heal after experiencing a traumatic event.

At the vanguard of trauma resilience in Tarrant County is Mental Health Connection (MHC), a collaboration of mental health agencies created as a resource for mental health education and treatment. MHC recently completed a successful pilot program called Reaching Teens, which identified the physical and mental effects of trauma in adolescents and illustrated the need for education about resilience and treatment. Now MHC is preparing to launch a public education campaign to make Tarrant County more trauma resilient.

An organization with a broader mission that directly serves those in need is Mental Health America of Greater Tarrant County (MHATC). Elsewhere, friends and family of people who have died by suicide wait an average 1,643 days — four and a half years — to receive expert support; thanks to MHATC’s LOSS Team, in Tarrant County the wait time is a mere 35 days. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the nation, and nine out of 10 who die by suicide suffer from mental illness. Annually, the LOSS Team supports 7,000 people, while MHATC serves over 15,000. MHATC also offers yoga, acceptance and commitment therapy, counseling, art therapy and programs for veterans, and provided $65,000 in free mental health services to the public last year alone.

We can contribute to trauma resilience and improved mental health by supporting our local mental health agencies and nonprofits. The World Health Organization found that for every $1 invested in mental health treatment, there is a $4 return — that’s a 300 percent return on investment, and all the more reason to invest up front in strengthening the hearts and minds of our community. We can remove the stigma from the topic by openly talking about mental health and by viewing mental illness as the disease it is, not a weakness to be hidden or a flaw in character.

One in five of us, at some point in their lives, will suffer from mental illness. Mental health is the responsibility of all of us. Like any other collective challenge, it will take our whole village to solve. The effort is worth the savings — in dollars and, most important, in lives.

To support direct-to-public mental health services, go to mhatc.org. To support the collaboration of mental health agencies in Tarrant County, visit mentalhealthconnection.org.

Duke Greenhill is vice president of creative and strategy at J.O., a full-service marketing and PR firm. He writes about business and marketing and has appeared in Fast Company, The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review and others. He has worked across media with clients including MasterCard, Ritz-Carlton, the government of Monaco, Ameriprise Financial, L’Oréal, Tiffany & Co. and more. Reach him at howdy@jodesign.com.

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