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At SXSW: The Mental Health Abyss

At SXSW: The Mental Health Abyss

By Steve Cook, UpwellBeing Contributing Writer

March 12, 2019 — Earlier this week in Austin, TX, at the SXSW Energizing Health panel titled “Killing Ourselves Faster: The Mental Health Abyss,” an opening remark by the President-elect of the American Medical Association set the stage:  “This is the first generation whose life expectancy will be shorter, largely because of suicides and overdoses increasing.” In fact, U.S. life expectancy has declined for two years in a row. Mental illness is on the rise.

A distinguished panel of senior medical experts was moderated by Dr. Andrey Ostrovsky—currently chief medical officer and SVP of Behavioral Health at Solera Health, and formerly chief medical officer for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), The wide-ranging discussion touched on the issues, the drivers of these trends, what people can do, and what role technology might play to curb mental illness.’

The panel included Dr. Patrice Harris, a psychiatrist and president-elect of the American Medical Association; Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; and Kim McPherson, senior program officer for the St. David’s Foundation.

Among the key points made were:

  • “No one is immune to mental illness. And stigma is a major impediment to progress on suicide prevention.”
  • “Stigma is prevalent everywhere, particularly in communities of color. There are myths around suicide, and we need to get past those myths. Mental illness is not a character flaw, it is a chronic illness.”
  • “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. We need to meet the patient where they are, starting with science.”
  • “As soon as you suspect someone may be suffering and expressing thoughts of hurting themselves, consider saying, ‘I’ve noticed that you may be going through something. Would you like to talk about it?’ Keep it open-ended and offer to listen.”
  • “One-half of suicides involve guns. There is a critical need to conduct research that will help guide sound policy around guns.”
  • “Technology can be helpful, but it can also hurt.”
  • “Technology can be a really positive contribution to big-data sets from which we can glean insights to tailor medicine to the individual consumer/patient.”
  • “There is promise in technology, but also potential peril. But we can use that fear of tech to inform future technology design so that we don’t stifle innovation and, rather, make it work for us.”
  • “Telemedicine can equalize the distribution of specialists. We need policy to increase the ability to use telemedicine.”
  • “There are examples where tech is creating positive benefits. For instance, the Veteran’s Administration REACH program is showing the meaningful positive impact of technology.”

If you need prevention help now, call the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention crisis line: 1-800-273-TALK or text 741-741.  You can also confidentially contact crisis counselors for no cost 24/7/365 at 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 741741.