Mental health reform in the U.S.

AN Often misunderstood issue that must be addressed

The mental health system in our country is broken. Millions of Americans who suffer from mental illness are not getting the kind of treatment they need or the care they deserve. Congress has talked for years about redeveloping the system and making changes for the better; however, this talk is just talk.

According to the Huffington Post, nearly one out of four Americans (61 million) suffer from mental illness, and one in seventeen have a seriously disabling mental illness. Yet these people don’t get the same kind of attention that people with physical ailments do. There is a stigma regarding mental illness that so many people are fighting to erase, but it refuses to leave.

Part of the reason why our mental health system is so broken is that people do not truly understand mental illness and how debilitating it can be. There are people with depression who struggle just to get out of bed every day. There are people with anxiety who remain sick because they can’t even call the doctor to schedule an appointment. There are so many more people with different and complex mental illnesses that dictate every aspect of their life that are literally dying, waiting for the system to change.

One aspect of the challenge involves undoing work that began in 1955 with the deinstitutionalization of state psychiatric hospital systems, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This effort, which lasted until around 1980, moved patients from state-run facilities into community-based care, especially if they were responding well to the medications that they were being given. Unfortunately, resources were scarce and patients often did not receive the kind of care that they needed. As the system became dismantled, many people were left behind with only unfulfilled promises left to cling to. Not being able to take care of themselves, these people were left on the streets or imprisoned. According to the Huffington Post, one-third of the country’s homeless population suffers from mental illness, along with more than one out of five of those in prison.

The country spent a lot of time and effort getting people out of the mental health care system, but now we’re facing the opposite problem. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find care that is accessible and affordable. Not to mention, finding this kind of care is almost impossible without insurance. According to CNN, the uninsured rate is on the rise, with 11.7 percent of Americans without insurance. Without insurance, these people have to depend on the state to give them the kind of treatment they need, and the state is simply not providing it.

“Twenty-one states cut their mental health budgets by $4.35 billion between 2009 and 2011, impeding progress that had been made, and leading some mental health patients to seek help in emergency rooms because they had nowhere else to go,” the Huffington Post reported.

In order to fix this broken system, we must get rid of the stigma that comes with mental illness and start contacting government officials about the importance of mental health. As Nicholas Covino, president of William James College, said, “We have got our work cut out for us, but consider this a call to action. If we start immediately, we will see the impact in our lifetime, while knowing that we’re helping future generations to thrive.”