People need better access to mental healthcare
Despite its many negative aspects, there is one very important and much needed part of Obamacare: insurance companies are now barred from denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions, including diagnosed mental illnesses.
Vice President Joe Biden and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius touched on this topic Wednesday at a forum on mental health commemorating the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s signing of the Community Mental Health Act. The law signed by Kennedy in 1963 aimed to build mental health centers accessible to all Americans so that those with mental illness could be treated while working and living at home, rather than being kept in state institutions that sometimes were neglectful or abusive.
Mental health treatment, and attitudes surrounding mental illness, have come a long way in recent decades. People who suffered from mental problems were once shunned by society and locked away, undergoing cruel treatments and isolation. Essentially, those with such illnesses were treated as lab rats.
Today, most of society understands that mental illness is a common problem, and various diagnoses exist. Even those living with the most difficult disorders can seek various types of therapy that enable them to live productive lives.
But the stigma surrounding mental illness still exists, which prevents some from seeking treatment or even expressing a need for help due to shame. On top of this, many are not aware of the services available to those who need mental healthcare, yet do not have the financial means to seek care.
Wednesday, Sebelius said that much work remains to be done to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and its barrier to treatment. She claimed 60 percent of Americans with mental health challenges are not receiving care.
Louisiana’s residents have their own battles with mental illness. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), out of the state’s 4.4 million residents, nearly 183,000 adults and 49,000 children live with serious mental illness. This does not include those who suffer from common struggles with depressive disorders. In 2006 alone, 492 residents died by suicide, which is most often the result of untreated, or under-treated, mental illness.
Untreated mental illness can lead to serious issues for patients and society. Nationally, about 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system experience mental health disorders, while 20 percent of that group lives with severe mental health conditions. In 2008 in Louisiana, 9,100 adults with mental illnesses were incarcerated. It’s easy to deduce that had these people received adequate mental healthcare, many would have not made the decisions that landed them in jail.
According to the Vera Institute of Justice, in 2012, Louisiana taxpayers spent about $698.4 million on total incarceration costs. The state only allotted $257.3 million for public mental health services, though.
Mental illness does exist and left untreated, or improperly treated, it can lead to very serious problems, not only for the patient, but sometimes for society as well. More needs to be done in our communities, state and country to address this problem.
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