The Access to Care data tells us how many adults and youth have access to insurance and access to mental health treatment in America.
In 2016, mental illness and substance misuse, especially inunderserved communities, remains a major issue, affecting one in fivepeople and millions of families across America. Yet these issues, mostoften overlapping, are too often misunderstood, ignored, underfunded,and viewed as a source of shame.
To compound the problem, mentalhealth professionals have been forced to become experts in jugglingclients, HMO’s, Medicaid and Medicare.
The workforce is bandied about by bureaucracy, stretched thin trying to meet the needs of a largepopulation, and does not always have the cultural competency that wouldhelp people feel comfortable about receiving services. In a landscapethat too often demonizes people living with emotional challenges, it isimportant to have services that are easy to navigate, easy to pay forand easy to get to.
Hillary Clinton’s mental health policy agenda, released last month, affirms that mental health deserves the sameattention as physical health. By envisioning a health care deliverysystem that considers the “whole person,” her agenda encourages anenvironment where medical and mental health professionals could focusless on reactive care and more on keeping people mentally healthy. Itwould create a cohesive system, not bogged down by red tape andinconsistent service. The proposed policy would also launch a nationalinitiative to prevent suicides, a problem that particularly affectsFlorida, as suicide is now the third leading cause of death among youngFloridians. This would mean more school social workers to developwide-ranging initiatives that promote healthy coping skills, and moreEmployee Assistance Program (EAP) counselors.
Clinton’s plan would also create more mental health resources at schools and on collegecampuses. One in four college students cope with mental health problems; seventeen million children are coping with mental illnesses. Withbrains that are not fully developed until age 24, young people are notalways fully aware and understanding of their emotions. Young peopleoften go years without treatment, wondering if they will ever get thesupport they need to live a full life.
Clinton’s plan will alsoimprove our criminal justice system. We ask police officers to do toomuch with too little training. Training law enforcement officers torecognize trauma and to intervene in crisis will help low-leveloffenders get treatment, and keep those who would be better served withmental health care out of jail and out of the legal system.
Manyof the approaches in Clinton’s mental health policy agenda are provingsuccessful in New York City, which last year launched ThriveNYC, thenation’s most comprehensive effort to address untreated mental illnessand substance misuse. Clinton’s policy agenda would take thiscomprehensive approach nationwide, revolutionizing mental health andsubstance misuse treatment in the U.S. and finally giving this publichealth crisis the attention it deserves.
Strategies likeintervening early before illnesses become more serious, and integratingmental health care into primary settings are cornerstones of both andhave the potential to dramatically improve how we address mental illness in this country.
There is finally a national, comprehensive, mentalhealth policy agenda that can normalize the everyday experiences of somany of our country’s citizens. We are encouraged to know that peoplewill one day walk into an office and as confidently request the services of a mental health clinician as they would a cardiologist or aninternist.
We are encouraged to know that our neighborhood policeofficers will have more tools available to them that can inspire hopeand not fear. We are encouraged to know that every citizen of thiscountry, will be able to access affordable and equitable services thatwill meet the needs of their whole self.
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