The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Health care for mentally ill hardly makes the grade –

Okay, here is an article that really lays out the problem with our current health care system as it applies to the mentally ill.  Although this article was written for and about Illinois, this is “location neutral” insight and information.

Telling a mentally ill person that he can only be hospitalized if he is an imminent danger to himself or to others equates with telling a diabetic that unless or until a diabetic coma occurs, there is no treatment.

The weakness of this article, in my opinion, is the failure to address the issue of medical treatment for the mentally ill–by this I mean real physical illness treatment.  The mentally ill still have bodies, and those bodies get sick just like everyone else’s.  However, the quality and availability of treatment is poor and sparse. 

Sometimes, the only time a mentally ill person gets to see a medical doctor is during the History & Physical done on admission to a psychiatric unit.  Our ER’s are over crowded and understaffed;  they also lack any training in how to deal with the mentally ill patients that fill their waiting room. 

For me, this is another major problem in our current health care system.

October 2, 2009The recent passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) has only increased the intensity of the nation’s attention to the urgent need to reform our health care system. And nowhere is this more important than in the mental health segment of our system.The National Alliance on Mental Illness recently gave Illinois a “D” for its state of mental health service in 2009, which was an improvement from an “F” in 2006. Clearly, more must be done to address this growing gap in our health care system. Many Illinois residents will be tempted to look to national health care reform to cure what ails Illinois’ mental health because the current state of health insurance for those seeking mental illness coverage is deplorable.

But while the NAMI report examines Illinois’ publicly-financed mental health system, in my experience, the bigger, more poorly understood problem facing Illinois residents who need mental or behavioral health coverage is the “not sick enough standard” that private insurers often apply to patients. Like many diseases, mental illnesses have a spectrum of seriousness. And like many diseases, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome. Prevention through intervention of emotional and behavioral difficulties can prevent mental illness in the future. Yet, it is common for patients to be denied coverage because their problems or difficulties aren’t diseases or their disease isn’t serious enough. One patient of mine was denied coverage because he hadn’t tried to kill himself or anyone else.

It is my hope that the rising tide of national health care reform will lift our boats here in Illinois. Current legislative language in the H.R. 3200 bill calls for all qualified health insurance plans to have parity for mental health and substance abuse disorders and make those benefits part of the essential benefits package.

I encourage legislators, policy makers and those who purchase health insurance to push for reforms advocated by myself and other groups, including the National Association of Social Workers. The two most important principles of any mental health care reform must include:

• A national policy must promote wellness, maintain optimal health, prevent illness and disability, ameliorate the effects of unavoidable incapacities, and provide supportive long-term palliative and end-of-life care.

• A reformed system must ensure that consumers have an equal right to continuous, high-quality care that is effective, efficient, safe, timely and patient-centered.Today, the medical community understands the connection between mind and body. Research on chronic illnesses documents high rates of depression and mental illness among cancer and heart disease patients, than those without these illnesses. Long-held stigmas about mental illness have started to give way to a more enlightened approach to treating mental and behavioral health. Yet, significant barriers to care still exist for those treated in both the public and private health care systems. A national health care reform debate can shine a light on these areas of improvement. Let’s not let this opportunity slip away.

Mary Jo Barrett, founder, Center for Contextual Change, Skokie
Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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October 3, 2009 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Go here to see the original: Health care for mentally ill hardly makes the grade – […]

    Pingback by Health care for mentally ill hardly makes the grade – | Health Insurance | October 3, 2009 | Reply

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