My recent visit to Iraq reaffirmed my belief in the centrality
of mental health to overall health and well-being. As the
Iraqis rebuild their country and their physical health after
terrible trauma, they also seek to restore a sense of emotional
equilibrium and security. Their recognition of the importance
of mental health in the rebuilding of their health care system
reflects the growing acceptance of this premise not only here
in the United States, but also abroad.
Our compassion and our shared humanity dictate the necessity
and the value of assisting other countries. But beyond that,
we have a responsibility, as a leader among countries with
the most advanced services for mental health care, to share
what we know and to help others create better mental health
Offering assistance also gives us an opportunity to help
reshape the attitudes of the larger society toward mental
illness. As in our own country, there is still too much stigma
attached to mental illness among the Iraqis and too many people
still regard it as shameful.
By investing a modest amount of resources, we can contribute
to enormous progress in Iraq and thereby forge a new basis
of trust on which to strengthen the relationship between our
countries. At the same time, promoting the inclusion of mental
health services as part of health care abroad helps us further
the same agenda here at home.
Right now, we have a unique opportunity to transform the
mental health service system here in the United States. Both
the Bush Administration and the Congress are committed to
supporting the kind of change called for in the report from
the President's New Freedom Commission
on Mental Health, Achieving the Promise: Transforming
Mental Health Care in America (See SAMHSA
News, Volume XI, Number 3).
The commonality of our tasks reinforces the importance of
each: the Iraqis, to rebuild a devastated mental health service
system; ours, to transform a mental health service system
that needs fixing "beyond simple repair," in the
words of the Commission's report. As we ensure that Iraqis
achieve a life free of fear and full of choices, we strive
to achieve the same goals here in the United States for people
with or at risk for mental or substance use disorders.
Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W.