Mega-star Mariah Carey has done the world, and herself, a great service by sharing the story of her struggles to regain her health and sense of self after receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 2001.
“Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” she told People, in this week’s cover story. “It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music.”
Carey’s story is not unusual.
According to the World Health Organization, 27 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience some sort of mental health disorder – think mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, phobias, impulse control issues and the like –over a 12-month period. Over our lifetimes, nearly half of us will. The stigma associated with a mental health diagnosis often keeps people from seeking help. If they do, a chronic shortage of health providers, particularly ones who will take insurance, means people are often unable to find or afford the care they need.
And while these illnesses are consistent across demographic lines, people of color are more sensitive to the stigma of a diagnosis and are less likely to get the same level of care as their white peers. Many people living in rural, low-income communities, or on tribal lands have no access to care at all.
Today, more than half of adults in the U.S. living with mental illness do not receive treatment. That makes Carey one of the lucky ones.
It all adds up quickly. In 2016, the World Health Organization released a groundbreaking study showing that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy nearly $1 trillion annually. The good news? Every dollar invested in treatment could lead to a return of $4 in economic productivity.
Where to begin?
Start by watching and sharing this important conversation at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health 2018 between Deborah DiSanzo, General Manager, IBM Watson Health; Amy Powell, President, Paramount Television and Digital Entertainment; and Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO, Kaiser Permanente, and led by Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington.
They do an excellent job highlighting how applied data and integrated caregiving models can lead to better outcomes, and how storytelling and social media are helping to reduce stigma. “There’s still work to be done on how to define mental health,” cautions Tyson.
For solutions closer to home, check out this opinion piece from Suzanne F. Delbanco, the executive director of the non-profit Catalyst for Payment Reform. She makes a powerful case that employers can transform the health and the well-being of their employees by making more informed choices.
Delbanco worked with eight employers and other health care purchasers, including AT&T, Equity Healthcare, and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 Benefits Group, to better understand how barriers to mental health care play out in the lives of employees. “Mental health care is ripe for innovation,” she writes:
Each purchaser in our group is inundated by vendors claiming to have digital or scalable solutions to meet their needs. To move the needle, employers need to take a close look at which solutions are clinically proven to address these conditions and find ways to drive meaningful usage of the ones that are effective.
Employers have long-provided employee assistance programs (EAPs), for example, to serve as the first line of support for employees, but they are ubiquitously underused. Creative campaigns like Stamp Out Stigma can reduce the shame people associate with seeking mental health treatment and can help jumpstart greater use of mental health services. More health insurance plans and telemedicine companies are starting to offer tele-mental health services too. Remote mental health care can help fill gaps in geographies where mental health specialists are not readily available or provide a more private way for employees to seek help without fear of running into someone they know in the waiting room.
Mental illness doesn’t have to be a barrier to winning a Grammy, running a country (relax, I’m referring to Abraham Lincoln), or leading a company. (For more on the latter, I strongly recommend this extraordinary interview with Paul English, the co-founder of the travel price comparison site, Kayak.)
But millions of people need help to erase a feeling this strong, to carry them through desperation and be reminded that they don’t have to carry the weight on their own. For that, they’ll need an ally who believes, and not just in miracles. A Mariah Carey playlist, though a good start, just isn’t going to be enough.
Ellen McGirt writes Fortune’s raceAhead, a daily newsletter about race and culture.