A Mental Investment
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
As the election in the USA heats up, one of the big issues is about national insurance/ healthcare. In Europe, the provision of healthcare by the state is considered unquestionable, just as we expect the state to provide policing, schools, fire brigade and similar services to its people. However, even some European countries are weak when it comes to providing mental health care. And this is a crying shame. I would argue that quality psychological and psychiatric healthcare is not only a good investment, but it should be considered essential to countries that want to be more innovative. Indeed, I would say a top priority for any country claiming to want more creative, more innovative people, should be full state support of mental health care. Let me explain why.
Firstly, let's look at the economics. Many, if not most, people with issues such as bipolar disorder (manic-depression), clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, high-functioning autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and other conditions are not only able hold full time jobs, but they are able to do very well in business. It is widely believed, but not known, for instance that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have high functioning autism (also known as "Asperger's Syndrome" or just "Aspergers"). But many others with high functioning autism find it difficult to find and maintain full time work. When they do, it is all to often low-paying, labour intensive work. Someone who spends most of her professional life either working for minimum wage or unemployed is unlikely to make much of an economic contribution to society.
Yet, psychological counseling, psychological treatment and sometimes medication can make all the difference. Treatments, that give people strategies to cope with their conditions and function in ways deemed acceptable to society, enable them to work in jobs that generate higher value to their employers, their customers and the economy. That benefits the economy both through greater income and greater tax contributions. Blowing a few 10,000s Euro or Dollars to give someone therapy for a year so that she can contribute to the economy and the government's offers is an investment that will pay off in a couple of years and generate a profit for many years to come. The alternative is probably frequent unemployment benefits far exceeding the cost of treatment over the individual's lifetime.
Creativity and Mental Illness
There has long been an assumed link between mental illness and creativity, in particular with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Lately, research has been proving that link and determining the reasons. (The references at the end of this Wikipedia article are but a few of the many papers on the topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creativity_and_mental_illness). In other words, the very people who have the ability to make the greatest creative contribution to society, culture and the economy are far more likely than average to need psychiatric or psychological support during their adult lives. Think about that!
Moreover, unless they come from wealthy families or have a particularly generous insurance policy, they will not be able to get the help that they need -- unless it is provided by the state. If mental healthcare is not provided, bear in mind that there is another social-group that has an exceptionally high level of mental illness: the homeless.
Now we cannot demonstrably claim that state sponsored mental health care can make the difference between a very creative person thriving or becoming one of the homeless. But based on the evidence, it seems extremely likely.
In short, governments that provide financial support or insurance for mental health care are very likely assisting their most creative people to use that creativity productively: writing novels, composing music, creating art, designing new products and launching innovative new businesses. And any political leader who claims that creativity and innovation are important to her country should be doing everything she can to ensure her country provides mental health care for those who need it. It's not about social support. It's about making a phenomenal economic and cultural investment!
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