The state of mental health policy in America today has shifted dramatically over the last several decades. In some ways, it has made colossal strides in meeting the mental health needs of its citizens. However, in many ways it still has a long way to go and does not adequately provide even basic or subsistence needs for countless people, and particularly those in certain demographics. This is a brief overview of a few areas where the United States should seek to improve its mental health policies and offerings.
Most mental health policies vary by state, creating irregularities, and underserved areas
The extent of Federal mental health policy isn’t as far-reaching as one might assume it would be. The two pieces of legislation that have made the biggest impact on how our Federal government handles mental health are the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
1996’s Mental Health Parity Act disallows health care plans sponsored by corporations or businesses for their employees to charge more for mental health treatment than comparable treatment for other medical or physical ailments. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals who are qualified for a position of employment from being discriminated against because of mental health needs or history.
While these are important policies, they aren’t adequate on their own. Outside of these provisions, each state is largely responsible for designing its own infrastructure for protecting mental illness sufferers, assessing mental health needs, delivering intervention initiatives, and stitching together the network of support types and organizations needed to deliver adequate mental health care to its population. Some states have proactively invested time and funding into this process, while others have fallen behind. This disparity can be particularly stark when considering specific demographics, such as the homeless population.
Though prescribing the particulars of a mental health delivery solution may not be ideal at the Federal level, creating more resource packages or incentives doled out from Federal pockets could help motivate and equip states to solidify their mental health offerings in ways that will best meet the specific needs of their inhabitants.
Communication between arms of mental health care delivery can be poor
As with other areas of public health provision, mental health delivery is accomplished by an amalgamation of separate entities that range from public to private to nonprofit to educational. Though each one may be doing exemplary work in its area of expertise, it is altogether too common to see individuals experience interruptions in their care, drop out of one program without having a clear contact point to advance to the next, or miss out on services that would have been pivotal simply because an advisor or social worker wasn’t aware of them.
Creating channels for sharing helpful information and building strong connections between mental health services should be a priority for policy makers. This would allow the system to provide much more effective treatment plans for those with mental illness, seeing as almost any individual that needs mental health support will likely need it from more than just one institution. Even if this simply looks like a better protocol to allow one’s primary care provider (PCP) to liaise as necessary with an employer or education institution, establishing those channels would greatly alleviate current support insufficiencies.
A huge number of encounters occur each day between people with diagnosed mental illnesses and public officials such as police officers and other public figures. Unfortunately, many of these do not receive adequate training on how to effectively navigate interactions with persons who suffer from mental illness. Awareness training, de-escalation techniques specifically for working with those suffering from mental illnesses, and more would substantially increase the quality of interactions between these two groups of people. This would have ripple effects on the way care is provided, order is kept, and those with mental illness are treated and helped along their road to recovering or achieving a stronger quality of life.
Policy reform in this area would introduce the types of training programs necessary to equip public officials to interact with those suffering from mental illness in helpful, supportive ways. This would go a long way to help improve relations between these two groups and help achieve better outcomes for everyone involved when it comes to interactions of this type.
Though there are many areas where mental health policy needs to be improved, American policymakers have set a precedent and created the foundational framework for this type of reform. The possibilities are enormous and emphasising change in the way mental health services are provided and prioritized would have cascading effects on huge portions of the public sector. Now is the time to reassess current mental health policy and make appropriate changes.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.
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