In the past few years, prominent celebrities have come forward to talk
about their struggles with mental illness.
Lady Gaga talked openly about suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome
following a sexual attack when she was a teen.
Prince Harry recently admitted that after his mother, Lady Diana, was killed in a car
crash when he was 12, he shut down emotionally for years. Following the
birth of her son, Gwyneth Paltrow says that she fell into a post-partum
depression, which made her feeling like a zombie, devoid of feeling.
These celebrity revelations are part of a growing movement to de-stigmatize
mental illness so that anyone who suffers from one of its many forms will
find the courage to reach out for help.
St. Joseph Health is playing a major role in this effort with the 2016 establishment of
the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness, which will boost access
to mental health services in Orange County and across the country and
will shape policy about it.
“Two years ago, when Providence and St. Joseph Health came together,
both organizations considered what we could do together that we couldn’t
do apart,” explains Annette M. Walker, president of strategy, Providence
St. Joseph and chief executive at St. Joseph Health.
“Both management teams came to same conclusion — that we should
tackle mental health, to be a bigger voice for advocacy and to draw attention
to mental health issues,” she says.
The number of people who need help with mental or emotional problems is
great. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, in 2015,
an estimated 9.8 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States
suffered from severe mental illness (meaning that their basic daily functioning
And more than 43 million adults suffered from some kind of mental illness
— such as depression, anxiety, thinking about suicide, schizophrenia
or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Yet help for these many problems is
not easy to find. “If you look at the health of most communities,
one of the most under-addressed areas is mental health,” says Walker.
“It might be a universally recognized problem, but it’s not
universally addressed,” she says.
When people with mental health issues don’t have access to treatment
such as medication, psychotherapy, support groups or clinics — or
are too afraid or ashamed to look for help — they often end up in
emergency rooms, local jails or on the streets. According to one report,
about 25 to 30 percent of homeless people suffer some form of mental illness.
This places a heavy burden on police and fire departments and emergency
Supporting services that work
Walker said that the new health system has committed to two actions: “First,
we’ve created the Institute for Mental Health and Wellness, which
will drive a national mental health agenda, and fund research for mental
health improvements,” she says. “Providence St. Joseph Health
invested $100 million to start this foundation and we will be recruiting
other institutions to get this work done nationally.
“Second, in California, Providence St. Joseph Health has committed
$30 million of new funds to mental health programs in communities we serve.”
This effort is in sync with the Catholic view of health care. “Whole
person care is a fundamental part of Catholic theology,” says Walker.
“Addressing mental health is 100 percent consistent with that mission.”
Doctors and other caregivers in the Providence St. Joseph Health system
are excited by the new initiative. “Mental health is a critical
element of an optimal care team, and many physical issues have mental
health components,” she says.
Walker says the goals of the Institute are to boost programs that offer
services as well as promote education about mental illness, including
addiction, to help remove the stigma around it.
“Look at any room full of people, and most likely every person there
has had some issue with mental health. We want to take away the stigma
so that everyone, including family members, can find the right resources
they need for help.”
(This story originally appeared in OC Catholic)