Dear Future President,
Our country’s approach to mental health care is extremely flawed. As it stands, one in five Americans report that they do not have access to treatment for their mental illness. Many factors account for this inadequacy, such as poor insurance and the overall stigma surrounding psychiatric illnesses. Many insurance providers offer little to no coverage for treatment of mental health condition and the stigma causes very negative beliefs and opinions of individuals with a psychiatric disorder and often causes feelings of guilt, embarrassment, and reluctance to seek treatment.
Expensive health care is the result of greedy companies attempting to take advantage of individuals with mental health issues. Rather than providing affordable care, these corporations set extremely high prices for very necessary treatments. Publicly available insurance, such as policies listed on the federal healthcare exchange, on the other hand are affordable but only cover specific treatment methods, or limit a patient in the number of treatments they may receive.
Imagine you are extremely sick. You have two options: see a doctor or stay ill. If you see a doctor, your insurance will cover most of your visit and medications you might be prescribed. Most of the time, people with mental illnesses do not have this luxury. Most insurance companies limit or entirely disregard treatments for mental illnesses. If an oncologist would not limit a cancer patient to ten rounds of chemotherapy, why would we limit treatments for someone with an anxiety or depressive disorder's treatments?
Think back to the illness you had in mind. If you choose the latter option - stay sick - your condition will worsen and you will make no progress in getting well. The same is true for mental conditions. If someone with depression does not seek treatment, their illness will affect their daily life in more severe ways that it did when the person was first diagnosed. Leaving a mental illness untreated can cause a number of new problems including job loss, homelessness, chronic physical health conditions, incarceration, and even suicide.
So why don’t we offer proper support for people with mental illnesses? The answer is actually quite simple: sigma. The stigma surrounding mental illness makes it extremely difficult for people to receive treatment. With an attitude that equates relapse to failure and depression to weakness, people are reluctant to ask for help. The first step in making health care more accessible is to stand up against incorrect assumptions about individuals with mental illnesses and inaccurate generalizations of mental illness as a whole. In defeating the stigma, we are paving the way to more effective treatment.
Luckily, some progress has been made. Under the Mental Health Parity Act, mental and behavioral health treatments are now considered part of 10 essential benefits of any policy available on the federal health exchange as well as Medicaid. Also, the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. This is great news, because most mental illnesses will arise before the age of 24. More and more colleges are also making treatment for young adults more accessible by offering on-campus counselling, wellness coaching, and peer support.
While some progress has been made in recent years, America’s approach to mental health care still needs to be improved. By making treatment more accessible, suicide rates among youth and adults will decrease, drug/alcohol dependency and addiction will lower, and incarceration rates among the mentally ill will decline. In order for these changes to take place, the stigma surrounding mental illness must be met with relentless retaliation, so that incorrect judgments and negative stereotypes are no longer an obstacle for those that are seeking treatment.