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Fixing the broken mental health system

Mental Health care in America is inadequate and in need of significant attention and change. There are so many problems that need to be addressed. Within the past ten years the states have cut roughly $5 billion in mental health funding and eliminated about 4″,500 public psychiatric beds. The nation’s psychiatric bed total per 100″,000 people is well below the rest of the developed world. With minimal beds available for individuals with serious mental illness to be placed in; more often than not they will end up on the streets, in jails, prisons, or worse, may end up taking their own life. Annually, about 38″,000 Americans take their own lives, and of those suicides, 90 percent are related to a mental health issue.

Besides the difficulty of placing mentally ill patients in psychiatric hospitals, the facilities themselves face their own problems such as staffing shortages and getting adequate reimbursement from insurance companies—including Medicaid and Medicare. The number of beds and appropriate facilities to handle cases of serious mental illness is already low, and even if those beds are available there are flaws within the law that do not ensure Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.

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Once patients leave in-patient treatment they are thrown back into their hectic daily routines and are faced with numerous stressors that could easily overwhelmed them, often with minimal transition help. A partial-patient program is a bridge program that helps these individuals to transition more smoothly into their daily lives after leaving in-patient treatment, a crucial step before they begin out-patient treatment. They sit in a group therapy setting for most of the day and return to their homes following that. This allows them to continue to receive adequate therapy and guidance as they get back on their feet. These programs, much like the rest of the mental health system, are lacking in numbers and resources. So many individuals struggle with finding an available seat, or they have difficulty covering the cost or getting insurance coverage.

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After the partial-patient program, the next battle is finding a psychiatrist whom these patients can see on a routine basis. Wait lists for these providers are hundreds of patients long, and these mentally ill patients call and call and often don’t hear anything back, causing more frustration and hopelessness as the system continues to let them down.

Every step along the treatment and recovery process if riddled with insufficiency. Funding and awareness needs to be made towards early diagnosis and consistent treatment for people struggling with mental illness. We need a system that provides sustained treatment with a range of services to help those who cannot cope on their own.

Incorporating primary care into the mental health care system can provide a front-line screening process for mental illness. Early diagnoses can be made using questionnaires performed to screen high-school students and adults in primary care offices for signs of mental or emotional disturbance, with follow-up testing and treatment for those who need it.

The amount of state funding towards mental health needs to be increased, so that the number of beds and resources can sustain the growing population of individuals struggling with mental illness.

Currently, many insurance plans have stricter limits to treating mental illness compared to physical ailments. Mental health needs to be addressed with the same urgency as physical health, with equal coverage. Legislation needs to be adjusted to ensure this.

Awareness and incentive programs need to be initiated to draw positive attention and less stigmatism towards the mental health community. Awareness can draw in more individuals to lower the staffing shortages and critical need for psychiatrists. However, on top of just increasing the number of psychiatrists for treatment there should be community programs available to support these individuals including social assistance, housing, and peer counseling.

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