Last week my wife and I collaborated on my blog post, ‘Prison Changed Me’. We are doing the same thing for the next two posts. Our goal is to address the failures of our healthcare system and our criminal justice system, as they relate to mental health.
The concerns we’re addressing are based on our experience in the last year and a half. Please note that everyone has their own experiences and opinions to share. We are fairly confident however, that our experience is like millions of others around the world. We need to change this and make it better for everyone.
There are four main ways that we feel the healthcare system was less than adequate when addressing my mental health needs:
1. Access to Mental Health Treatment Options
Most people are not aware of the federal law (The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008) that helps to prevent disparities between mental health and physical health insurance practices. AKA, if your insurance policy states that you can have unlimited visits to a doctor for physical wellness then they must also provide you insurance for unlimited visits for mental wellness. Sounds like this would make things easy for people seeking treatment for mental illness. Unfortunately, the statistics on people who have health insurance are unfavorable. And even if you do have health insurance, it’s still not as easy as you think.
When I first realized I needed professional help my only option was to make an appointment with my general practitioner. I couldn’t just go to a psychiatrist of my choosing and start there. When I met with my GP we discussed what I was experiencing. He first suggested depression and I shared my medical history with him. I also made a point to express my concerns with medications and being open to alternative medicine. His only answer to my needs was medication. So, as someone in desperate need of help, having just started a new job, I took the meds and went home. I felt hopeless. I tried the meds for a couple months and things only got worse. I was then referred to a psychotherapist by my GP. That didn’t work either. Finally, after visiting the ER twice, I was handed a stack of papers with a daunting list of psychiatrists to choose from. Maybe I was finally on my way to proper treatment. How long do people suffering with a mental illness have to wait for proper care?
2. Lack of emergency mental health providers
If we think about mental health as being completely differentiated from physical health (sarah absolutely hates this approach and thinks that it is the fundamental flaw in treatment of brain disorders) then why is it we do not have the same emergency care for mental health? Specific to our location, we have one Level 1 Trauma Center nearby, and if you have read my previous posts then you know they are not equipped to handle mental health emergencies. In fact, they do not even have a psychiatrist on staff.
3. Lack of training in emergency room staff
There is an incredible shortage of acute mental healthcare facilities right now. A recent report shows a 14 percent decline in available psychiatric beds. At this point in time, there are approximately 14 beds available per 100,000 people. At the same time, the number of adults who present with mental illness has increased. This results in people flooding emergency rooms for treatment, or worse, not seeking treatment. Nationwide, hospitals are reporting significant increases in patients seeking treatment for mental health crisis. Unfortunately, hospitals are not providing the appropriate staff trained to handle these situations.
4. General Stigma
One in four adults is diagnosed with a mental illness. One half of Americans live with a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their life. To put this in perspective, you are 11 times more likely to know someone with a mental illness than to know someone who identifies as LGBTQ, 1.3 times more likely than someone who has had cancer in their lifetime, and 6 times more likely than someone with blue eyes.
Our healthcare system influences the way society views mental health. If the healthcare professionals we trust are placing less of an emphasis on mental health, than we fail to believe that BRAIN HEALTH IS PHYSICAL HEALTH! MENTAL HEALTH IS MEDICAL HEALTH. Currently, we cannot replace or transplant a brain. Therefore, our healthcare system needs to put this at the top of the list.
If this is just my story, one story, than imagine what others are going through, who don’t have support, or insurance, or the financial means. In addition, how would being wronged by our criminal justice system affect their access to mental health resources and treatment? This is the second failure that we will address next week.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.