Fixing the United States’ Mental Healthcare System: 3 Changes That Need to Happen

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Even though the state of mental healthcare in the United States has slightly improved over the last few decades, the fact remains that approximately one in four Americans reports suffering from a mental illness, according to a US News article. Yet, a 2012 report found that barely half of the Americans afflicted with a mental illness received treatment. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that about 20% of Americans don’t have insurance coverage that pays for mental healthcare treatment. The negative stigma that surrounds mental illness may also have contributed to these numbers.

Either way, it’s clear that something needs to be done. The United States’ mental healthcare system isn’t serving its people when many of those who need assistance aren’t able to afford it or don’t have access to quality care. Still, there are some changes that can be implemented in the years ahead to gradually improve the state of America’s mental healthcare system.

Better Enforcement of the Parity Act

The first thing that needs to be done to improve the state of mental healthcare in America is to fully implement the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008, which essentially states that medical insurance companies must treat mental illnesses the same way they treat physical illnesses (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services). In other words, an insurance provider must provide equal coverage for mental health treatment as they do for physical illness treatment, and co-pays/associated costs must be equal for each.

The purpose of implementing this act was to work towards equal treatment and understanding of mental illness. Unfortunately, the act hasn’t been successfully implemented, as many insurance providers still don’t offer equal coverage and aren’t held accountable for it. Currently, there’s no requirement for insurance companies to disclose how they make their decisions regarding coverage. As such, policymakers aren’t able to determine with any level of certainty whether or not an insurance company is complying with the Parity Act.

In order to fully implement the Parity Act for the good of the American people, laws must be passed that require greater transparency among health insurance providers. Furthermore, specific guidelines need to be put forth that can be used to determine when an insurance policy is not in compliance so that the appropriate fines can penalties can be implemented.

Only by holding insurance companies accountable will there be any chance of making sure that all Americans have adequate coverage for receiving the mental healthcare they need. More American citizens also need to be made aware of their rights under this act, as a 2014 APA survey found that only 4% of the country’s citizens are aware of the Parity Act.

Increased Access to Mental Healthcare

In addition to full implementation of the Parity Law, it’s also necessary to ensure that access to mental healthcare and treatment is considered a basic human right in the United States (or, at the very least, as basic of a human right as general healthcare). Even though the passage of the Affordable Care Act made it a requirement for all Americans to have some form of health insurance, the fact remains that not all healthcare plans include the coverage for mental health that they’re supposed to. Furthermore, the Huffington Post estimates that 54 million American citizens are still uninsured.

This means that up to 54 million Americans still don’t have access to affordable mental healthcare. And even among those who do have insurance coverage for mental health treatment, the fact remains that there simply aren’t enough practicing psychologists and other mental health professionals in the United States. In fact, a USA Today article reports that more than half the counties in the nation don’t have practicing psychologists, social workers, or psychiatrists. In other words, the access problems of mental healthcare aren’t only related to finances, but to simple availability as well.

So, what’s the answer to this problem? For starters, there needs to be an expansion of financial assistance programs when it comes to mental healthcare. Even though Federally funded healthcare programs such as Medicaid offer mental healthcare coverage, the fact remains that any private psychiatric practices simply refuse to accept Medicaid patients because of the low reimbursement rates. As a result, even those living in poverty who qualify for a Federally funded healthcare program may not be able to receive the professional help they need to overcome their mental illnesses.

And while there are some free clinics and other forms of mental healthcare available to the uninsured and those in need, the unfortunate fact is that these services simply don’t provide the quality of care that these patients need, in many cases.

In addition to an expansion of Federally funded healthcare programs to fully include mental healthcare coverage, there also needs to be a push to increase the number of mental healthcare workers nationwide. The country’s current number of mental healthcare workers simply isn’t enough to provide the care that’s needed; it’s a simply supply/demand problem.

This has become an even larger problem ever since the 2014 expansion of Medicaid; as more practices are being forced to accept Medicaid patients, the system has become even more overwhelmed than ever. In fact, a McClatchy DC article claims that approximately 91 million Americans currently live in an area where there is considered to be a major shortage of mental healthcare professionals.

By promoting and expanding educational programs that lead to careers in mental health, the nation’s citizens will be better served and will eventually have the access to the quality mental healthcare they need.

Research to Dispel Stereotypes Surrounding Mental Health

Finally, the nation needs to be better educated about what it means to suffer from a mental illness. Currently, there are too many negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness–to the point that those who are in serious need of mental health treatment are afraid to seek it out; they’re worried about what others will think of them in the event that they’re diagnosed with a mental illness, and they’re embarrassed to reach out.

Even though President Obama launched a $100 million initiative to further research the human brain in an effort to improve mental healthcare treatment in 2013 (Stanford News), the United States is still so far behind in its research–especially compared to other developed countries. Without this research and funding, the nation’s mental healthcare professionals don’t stand a chance in successfully treating their patients. The solution to this, of course, is to set aside more funding for this kind of research, but the question of where that money will come from remains because very few of the country’s policymakers prioritize mental health research.

Sadly, the subject of mental illness is often seen as a “taboo” subject in the United States. Simply put, people don’t want to talk about it and would rather sweep it under the rug. In fact, according to a Time to Change survey, 9 out of 10 people with a mental illness report that they feel they face stigma and even discrimination as a result of their illness.

To remedy this, there need to be more educational programs that openly discuss mental illness and dispel the negative stereotypes that surround treatment. Americans need to understand that mental illness isn’t much different than physical illness in the sense that people cannot simply “get over” a mental illness, nor do they bring the illnesses on themselves. In reality, these illnesses must be professionally treated.

Specifically, discussions regarding mental health need to start sooner; very few public educational institutions begin talking about mental health until a student’s later years, and there is very little (if any) formal education on the subject. Public schooling systems need to begin implementing lesson plans on mental health, illness, and care to show children at a young age that these issues exist and they’re not uncommon.

Only then will the future generations of Americans be able to see mental health for what it really is rather than carrying around and perpetuating these negative stereotypes. Maybe then, people will be able to feel more comfortable not only talking about mental health, but seeking treatment when they need it as well.

There’s no denying that some serious changes need to take place if the United States wants to provide its citizens with the mental healthcare coverage that they need and deserve. By fully implementing the 2008 Parity Act, increasing access to mental healthcare treatment across the country, and making an effort to dispel the stigma that exists regarding mental illness, it’s possible to take a step in the right direction.

Of course, these are not changes that can be easily made overnight; instead, these changes will take years of effort by the country’s policymakers and influencers. Still, for the millions of Americans out there who are in need of mental healthcare, the effort and dedication required to fully implement these changes could be more than worth it in the long run.

In the end the fact is, that many insurance companies do not cover quality mental health treatment.  However, Pasadena Villa programs will work with you and your insurance company on your behalf to access insurance payment for services.  We utilize an independent third party Insurance Billing Specialist to seek your insurance benefits.

Pasadena Villa programs set out to create a comforting and therapeutic environment, where our mental health professionals work directly with residents. They observe them in actual social situations and incorporate these observations directly into the resident’s ongoing treatment plan.  This individual real life personalized attention makes the Pasadena Villa treatment experience more appropriate, relevant and beneficial for each of our residents, especially when compared to any other available adult residential treatment mental health services. As one of the very first programs in the country to base its treatment upon Social Integration, our mental health facilities offer help through a unique mix of individualized therapy and group residential programs with a clear focus towards achieving more independent living.

The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. Pasadena Villa’s Outpatient Center in Raleigh, North Carolina offers partial hospitalization (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (PHP). If you or someone you know may need mental health services, please complete our contact form or call us at 407-574-5190 for more information.



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