07/11/2012 04:21 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2012

Compassionately Dealing With Mental Illness in America

Take a look around the office because, statistically speaking, one out of every four adults will experience a mental health disorder in any given year. It's a common occurrence, yet we live in a country where mental illness comes with a side of stigma and a second helping of hardly anyone caring. Sounds harsh, but when you look at the facts, it's clear to see that we are a nation that is failing those who are in desperate need of some professional help.

What we as a country desperately need is to provide those who have mental illnesses with the help that they need. Doing so will benefit our communities, because those people will most likely become productive members of society once again. Mental illnesses, by definition, are serious mental health conditions that people cannot overcome on their own or simply by summoning up more willpower. They include such issues as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, depression, etc.

These conditions affect nearly 58 million adults per year, as well as 10 percent of children and adolescents, and that's something that can successfully be helped. An estimated 70 to 90 percent of those who get the professional treatment they need will go on to experience a better quality of life, as well as a reduction in their symptoms. Unlike some diseases, where we are waiting for a cure or some effective help to come along, we already have that for the majority of mental health disorders.

So, if we are not giving mental health issues the funding they need, and not giving people the support that is essential, what exactly is happening to all those people? Not a whole lot, unfortunately. Many of those with mental illnesses are cast aside, and ending up living on the streets. In fact, it's estimated that roughly 25 percent of all homeless persons suffer from a mental illness.

It gets even worse. Just down the road from the White House, there are plenty of homeless individuals who suffer from mental illness. Shockingly, just steps from the most important office in the land, and perhaps the whole world, where decisions could be made to help people, those in power literally drive right past the homeless on the way to their comfortable offices. It makes you wonder who's not thinking clearly. Most people feel that mental illness is a problem that happens somewhere else, to some other families, and impacts someone else's community. But that's just not the case.

Mental illness doesn't care what you look like, how much money you have in the bank, or how well educated you are. It is something that can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of age, race, and creed. Indeed, mental illness impacts our own families, our friends, and people in our community. It's time to start helping those with mental illnesses, so that they can rejoin our communities and feel good about who they are.

When it comes to mental illness, we need more tolerance, empathy and compassion. We need to remove the barriers to help, and remember that if it were our family member or friend who had such problems, we would view things with a lot more compassion. We have an obligation to help them while they are in a position where they cannot help themselves. Let's all stand together and show our support for our mentally ill neighbors and community members. If not now, when? The sooner we help people who are suffering from mental illness, the sooner they will be able to enjoy life again, and be a vital part of our community.

For more by Matthew Lynch, Ed.D., click here.

For more on mental health, click here.