Discussion: toward a new understanding of mental illness | policies


Getting Started

Imagine Sara, a 15-year-old girl, straight-A student, and varsity cheerleader with a promising, full life ahead of her. The outside world sees her as perfect. Little do they know, she harbors a secret eating disorder that, by her 16th birthday, she will end up dying from. Had there been policy that enacted school curriculum to help students understand that mental illness is a brain disease and addressed the social stigma associated with such an illness, Sara could have sought help and might still be alive today. Social workers can advocate for awareness and stigma-reduction campaigns at schools, colleges, and workplaces so that people like Sara can get the help they need before it’s too late.

The most innovative and effective treatments for mental disorders will be of no use if the stigma attached to mental disorders prevents individuals from acknowledging their illness, seeking help, and remaining in treatment. How can social workers advocate and bring awareness to society that mental illness is a brain disease and address the social stigma associated with such an illness? What potential does mass media have to change attitudes towards mental illness, and how can the social work profession leverage that for policy change?

Upon successful completion of this discussion, you will be able to:

  • Assess how social welfare and economic policies impact the delivery of and access to social services. (PO 5)
  • Demonstrate character, scholarship, and leadership in becoming a world changer through application to personal life and professional social work practice.
  • Demonstrate Christ-like attitudes, values, worldviews, and ethical and professional behavior within advanced clinical practice. (ILO 1)


  • Video: TED Talks: Thomas Insel—Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness: http://tinyurl.com/jyjepc9

Video Link: https://fod-infobase-com.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=56576

  • Website: Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health: http://www.bevocalspeakup.com/be-vocal-for-your-community-mental-health.html
  • Article: 13 Celebrities Who Opened Up about Their Mental Health + Why It Matters: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-25240/13-celebrities-who-opened-up-about-their-mental-health-why-it-matters.html.


1) Galson, S. (2009). Surgeon General’s Perspectives: Mental Health Matters. Retrieved from  https://brightspace.indwes.edu/content/enforced/123266-3FA2020SWK-543- 01DJ/Mental%20Health%20Matters.pdf?_&d2lSessionVal=NI18K6miUnbRUCDITr6KvZrho&ou=123266

2) Insel, T. (2013). Toward a new understanding of mental illness. Retrieved from https://fod-


Background Information

Today, thanks to better early detection, there are 63% fewer deaths from heart disease than there were just a few decades ago. In the video you will watch for this assignment, Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, poses this question: Could we do the same for depression and schizophrenia? The first step in this new avenue of research, he says, is a crucial reframing: to stop thinking about “mental disorders” and start understanding them as “brain disorders.”

Social workers can take a more active role in protecting consumer rights and raising awareness about the need for improved services and expanded policy initiatives for mental illness.


  1. Review the rubric to make sure you understand the criteria for earning your grade.
  2. Watch the TED Talks video by Thomas Insel, “Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness.” If you are not already logged in to the Off-Campus Library Services (OCLS) website, you will be prompted to enter your OCLS login and password. You can also download and view the TED Talks: Thomas Insel—Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness Video Transcript.pdf file.
  3. Explore the website “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health” to gain ideas on how to advocate for policy reform and raise community-based mental health support.
  4. Navigate to the threaded discussion and respond to the following:
    1. How could we use this information to change policy to work toward earmarking more money for helping the mentally ill?
    2. Would rethinking these disorders change the social mindset about policy development? Explain.
    3. Read the article from the Surgeon General titled “Mental Health Matters.pdf“:
      1. What are the public challenges in (1) eradicating the stigma and (2) increasing the awareness of mental health?
      2. What unique challenges/stigma do men with mental illness in our society face? How might these be different from the challenges women experience?
  5. Your initial post is due by the end of the fourth day of the workshop.
  6. Read and respond to at least two of your classmates’ postings, as well as all instructor follow-up questions directed to you, by the end of the workshop.
  7. Your postings also should:
    1. Be well developed by providing clear answers with evidence of critical thinking by providing evidence from workshop resources to support responses (with APA citation).
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