OPINIONS America's dysfunctional mental healthcare system


America's dysfunctional mental healthcare system


18:39, November 01, 2021

Artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada unveiled a first-of-its kind original piece of art called The Hug, at Lincoln Center in New York City before World Mental Health Day, October 7, 2021.

Mental health crisis has long been a part of the United States history. The only difference is that of the issue's growing intensity with COVID-19. Numerous socioeconomic challenges put forth by the pandemic have exacerbated mental illness in the country with average Americans experiencing increasing anxiety and depression.

The State of Mental Health in America revealed that in 2019, 19.86 percent of U.S. adults experienced mental illness - which equates to roughly 50 million Americans, 4.58 percent of adults reported high levels of suicidal ideation - an increase of 664,000 from last year's data.

More than 2.5 million youngsters struggle with severe depression, while over half of U.S. adults (at least 27 million) with mental illness fail to receive proper treatment. These statistics provide insight into America's dysfunctional mental healthcare sector long before the pandemic emerged.

A 2018 America's Mental Health study found that in addition to the U.S.' lacking sufficient mental health services, inadequate access remained a fundamental problem. Anthony Hassan, President and CEO of Cohen Veterans Network said in a statement, "If we want to save lives, save families and save futures, we must reimagine our behavioral health system and take concrete steps to improving consumers' ability to find the care they need, when they need it, and on their terms."

Since the onset of the pandemic, substance abuse rose to the occasion, and an increasing number of young adults and children winded up in hospitals, expecting mental health treatments. Even demand for mental healthcare providers increased significantly during the pandemic.

With staffing shortage, inequitable access to mental health facilities and socioeconomic divides in the country, mental illness will soon blow out of proportion if the United States government pays no heed to the issue. It is deeply troubling to realize that despite the U.S. investing more than $225 billion towards mental illness each year, mental healthcare is unaffordable and disproportionately distributed. This grim reality gives insight into how privileged, richer families are able to receive mental healthcare treatments while lower-middle income families are brushed on the side.

Not to forego the state of mental illness among ageing adults. Centers for Disease Control estimated that 20 percent of individuals in the age range of 55 and older have some form of mental health concerns including cognitive impairments, mood swings and anxiety. That begs the question; would retired, ageing adults be able to afford mental healthcare without family support? It is very unlikely considering the circumstances.

Part of the problem is also health insurance. Seventeen percent of Americans (more than 7.5 million) with mental illness are uninsured, according to Mental Health America. Health insurance can be costly, and again, not every household has access to it. Business Insider found that insurance providers do not compensate fairly while other healthcare options failed to fully cover individuals with severe mental illness.

It is evident that the U.S. did very little to grapple with a mental health crisis well before the pandemic hit the world. COVID-19 further deteriorated the state of mental illness in the country. The damage is done. So, what progress – if any – can we anticipate moving forward?

Despite these failures, the core solution to America's mental health crisis lies in lowering costs of treatment, providing free mental care to children, teenagers, ageing adults or anyone with severe cognitive difficulties. Pushing insurers to cover mental health costs for marginalized groups is critical. If they cannot cover every household, they can at least fully cover high-risk individuals. Moreover, studying key trends and prevalence of mental illness among different demographics is paramount. Doing so would reveal which groups experience mental health problems the most.

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