The Role of Mental Health Patient Organizations in Disease Management: Focus on the US National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association
Mood disorders are serious chronic illnesses that are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Up to two-thirds of all people with a mood disorder are undiagnosed. In the US, there are three suicides for every two homicides, with 70% of these deaths attributed to untreated depression. Mental health advocacy organizations play an important role in the management of these disorders by urging those who are undiagnosed or untreated to seek treatment. Stigma is the number one barrier to mental healthcare, according to the US Surgeon General. Advocacy groups work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness in order to encourage more people to seek treatment. They have a role in disease management as they enhance communication between patients and healthcare providers, an area in which studies have shown a significant gap in perceptions. Advocacy groups educate people so that they can play an active role in their own treatment plans. It has been demonstrated that participation in patient support groups increases patient compliance with treatment plans and decreases incidences of hospitalization for the illnesses. A critical role in disease management is patient advocacy for improved access to care, so that those needing treatment can actually receive it. Finally, mental heath advocacy groups have a role in managing the disease through `grassroots' efforts to promote expanded research for better treatments, and eventually cures, for mental illnesses.
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