The meteor that exploded over the Ural Mountains in Russa was a third of the size of DA14, yet its explosive force was twenty times more powerful that the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in World War II. Its unexpected arrival managed to injure over 1,000 people, damaged structures, and caused panic among the more that 1 million people living in in the city Chelyabinsk.
Near Earth Objects, or NEO's in scientific parlance, have a well chronicled history with Earthlings.
A couple billion years ago, a mega sized asteroid came to town, crashed into Earth, and became the moon, whose tides were the possible enabler of land based life as we know it on Earth.
65 million (or possibly 66 million according to the latest estimates) the Chicxulub Asteroid made an appearance, and the results were devastating. This mammoth, estimated to be 6 miles across, is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs and caused mass extinctions for most creatures that were living at the time. But humans owe this asteroid another debt, because it paved the way for mammals to rule the Earth.
About 100 years ago, another asteroid, about as large as DA14, exploded in the atmosphere over Siberia, leveling 825 square miles of forest. Yeti everywhere had a tough day.
On June 19th, 2004 the scientific community was beside themselves. The Kitt Peak National Observatory had discovered a deadly asteroid named Apophis (named for the Egyptian enemy of Ra, the sun god) which was over 1,000 feet across and carried with it a greater than 1 in 50 chance of striking the Earth in 2029. It was expected to take two shots at us: One on Friday the 13th in April 2029, and another on - again - Friday the 13th of March 2036.
The probability of striking the Earth has since been lowered to something like 1 in 10 million, but phew, right? But there is one thing that we know for sure: there is an asteroid out there, its a big boy, and its got our name on it, we just don't know when.
What does this have to do with mental health?
1) Like asteroids, mental health problems and suicides are inevitable. It's not a matter of if they are going to happen, but when.
2) Like asteroids, there is a significant number of people out there suffering from mental illness who are undiscovered. These isolated individuals receive no treatment whatsoever and (like the undiscovered asteroid with our name on it) pose the greatest risk.
3) Like asteroids, when mental illness strikes, humans suffer. Similar to the damage done by asteroids that hit in the sea or areas that humans do not inhabit, most sufferers of mental illness suffer alone. But like the meteor that caused terror in Russia, there are a fraction of those with mental illness who are so unstable that they lash out at society, and then society endures murderous rampages that become news darlings.
4) Like asteroids, if we identify mental illness early enough, we can mitigate its damaging effects. It turns out that in most cases, we have a window worth a year or two from the onset of first symptoms to the warranting of a full psychiatric diagnosis. If we treat mental illness early enough the destructive forces - that are often inevitable when left unchecked - become much easier to deal with. Being proactive about preventive mental health services can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
5) Like asteroids, there are little mental illness problems and there are really big mental illness problems. Depression and anxiety are the Russian meteors of the mental health world. They happen quite often, do a little damage, and then they're out of the news cycle. But like Chicxulub whose crater still mars the Yucatan Peninsula, sometimes mental illness can have deadly consequences.
6) Like asteroids, at this point, humanity is simply not doing enough to prevent mental illness. Like asteroids, we wait until something happens, scurry about while pumping rhetoric about how we need to do something, and then slowly forget the dangers and go back to waiting for the next disaster.
7) Like asteroids, there is exactly ONE organization that is doing something. For asteroids, there is the B612 Foundation - named after the asteroid in Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "Le Petit Prince" - whose recommendation to NASA is a $250 million-a-year program cataloging asteroids and developing a deflection plan. B612 is currently operating at $20 million a year. Likewise, Pursuit of Happiness has developed an effective and affordable preventive mental health program which implements mental health checkups in a variety of populations.
8) Like asteroids, humanity needs to get more serious about preventive mental health. The consequences in both cases for doing nothing will take a heavy human toll.