Mental Health Matters More than ProfitsAugust 12, 2014
It feels as though the world is in mourning today for Robin Williams, comedian, actor, writer, and philanthropist extraordinaire. Any fan could have told you that he’d suffered from bouts of depression and struggles with substance addiction. After all, he joked about it, right? Only Robin Williams would claim to have gone to rehab in wine country “to keep [his] options open.” According to news reports, though, the darkness overwhelmed him yesterday, and he apparently took his own life.
What does Robin Williams’ tragic death have to do with business ethics? According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 10 Americans suffers from depression. SAVE.org, a suicide prevention site, reports that nearly 30,000 Americans take their own lives every year. And yet, until very recently, many health insurance companies severely limited or denied coverage for mental health care. The Affordable Care Act, derisively dubbed “Obamacare” by its relentless opponents, changes that. One of its key benefits is requiring insurers to provide the same coverage for mental health problems as they do for other medical issues, and limiting insurers’ ability to deny coverage for preexisting mental health problems. That has to be a good thing, right? So, why do so many businesses continue trying to get out of offering health care benefits to their employees under the Act? And why do so many elected officials continue to fight to repeal a law that finally offers some help to those who suffer from debilitating illness? It’s all in the name of money, folks, and that’s about as ugly as it gets.
Look, I know medical care can be expensive, and that mental health issues can be especially tricky to treat. Robin Williams himself was indeniable proof of that – even repeated trips to rehab didn’t tame his demons. I also recognize that corporate investors want and deserve reasonable returns and that the cost of health insurance cuts into companies’ profits. But isn’t there some point where the bottom line becomes less important than the health and welfare of the workers who generate the profits in the first place?
Robin Williams leaves behind a matchless body of artistic work, from “Mork & Mindy” to “The Crazy Ones,” including “Good Will Hunting, ” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and my personal favorite, “The Fisher King.” Still, I believe that the man whose loved ones described him as a good neighbor and better friend would want his legacy to include a reminder to all of us that depression isn’t self-indulgence or weakness of character, but a real illness that can and must be treated. The best way to thank Robin Williams for the good times he gave us and to honor his memory would be to take better care of people who suffer as he did.
Thanks, Robin, for the good times. We’re really going to miss you.
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