Despite the passage of the mental health parity act a few years ago, and the help that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has also brought, many Americans still fall through the cracks of our disjointed, disorganized public mental health care system.
Unlike public health care, the public mental health system is a patchwork quilt of disparate systems that vary incredibly from state to state. They also rely on significant state funding — funding that’s usually the first to be cut when state budgets are tight.
The U.S. is one of the most wealthy societies in the world who’s standard of living would make people envious. Shouldn’t we do more to ensure that just because you’re poor, you have the same access to treatment as you would if you were poor and had a medical concern?
Andrew Doughman at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in South Carolina wrote a thoughtful and touching article today shedding light on this ongoing national embarrassment.
Diagnosed with an incurable disease, poor because she no longer was able to work, forced into an early retirement devoid of leisure, unable to sleep regular hours, gaining weight from her medications and severely depressed, she confessed to her health care provider at AccessHealth in Spartanburg that she was suicidal.
“I need help, and I need somebody to talk to who is a professional,” said Moore, 62, who agreed to share her story using her middle name only because of the stigma related to mental illness.
She is like many people in Spartanburg (SC): poor, lacking health insurance and unable to easily find help for a mental illness. Local health experts say the lack of access is a result of a fractured mental health system that strains the community and disproportionately affects the vulnerable among us: children, substance abusers, the poor and the disabled.
People like Moore are commonplace in every community in America. But because they don’t have a huge lobby in Washington or the state capitals, virtually nobody cares about them or stands up for their needs.
While this country continues to give tax breaks to large corporations for every imaginable reason (for instance, The New York Times documents this $3 billion loophole that one company exploits to expand its own profits), it seems unable to understand that millions of Americans are falling through the cracks of our mental health care system. While the politicians dicker, people who need treatment end up getting none at all — and dying because of it.1
Luckily, Moore happens to know a psychologist friend, whom she leans on for support:
“I’m lucky I had a friend who was a psychologist,” she said. “If I didn’t, I would probably be dead. She helped me every time.”
She got a prescription for anti-depressants from her primary care doctor through AccessHealth.
“I can’t say if it’s helping or it’s not helping,” she said. “I’m not going around wanting to kill myself everyday like I was before, so I guess it is helping a little.”
We’re not doing enough as a nation to help people who are poor who have a mental health concern and need treatment. It’s time to open our eyes and fund these treatment programs at the level that’s needed.
Read the full article: Poor, mentally ill in Spartanburg have few options