I’ve railed endlessly about the epidemic rise in psychiatric illness in this country that has resulted in one out of every four Americans being diagnosed with a mental illness. With the publication of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM V) my guess is it will soon be one out of every two. These are not really diseases as we understand them (we don’t know what causes them, how they’re transmitted, and why treatment is so often ineffective), they are just symptom clusters we have labeled as diseases.

This epidemic is in no small part the result of direct to consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies in collusion with the psychiatric profession, to convince people that if they are feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment, that they could be suffering from a disease. These diseases can of course be treated with pills (usually more than one, they often don’t work, and come with potentially serious side-effects).

We must stop ‘psychopathologizing’ the symptomatic manifestations that are the expectable ups and downs of life, and perpetuating the myth that there is a pill for whatever ails you. Instead we need to make it easier to talk to someone who is credible, will listen to you, maybe even offer some new perspectives or help you see a new ending to your story.

I spoke in Aspen a few weeks ago at the invitation of the Aspen Hope Center (http://www.aspenhopecenter.org), where they are actualizing a community-based mental health program. Aspen is a spectacularly scenic venue in the Colorado Rockies whose 5,000 permanent residents become 25,000 at the height of their tourist seasons. The Aspen Valley has a high suicide rate; last year they had four such deaths. Two years ago the Hope Center began as a volunteer suicide hotline, now it has clinicians available 24/7, and the staff has integrated their work with police and sheriff departments, ambulances, lawyers, business leaders and local nonprofits. The Center has added outpatient follow-up in addition to crisis intervention services, and are teaching prevention programs in schools, churches and local agencies.

This is the future of healthcare, we heal better in community with lots of people working toward the same goal, and it actually makes a good outcome more likely. Our connections remind us that we are not alone in the world, they inspire our hope, and hope is the opiate of humanity.

P.S. If you’d like to watch the Aspen presentation in it’s entirety go to http://www.grassrootstv.org/view?showID=12854