ACA important for mental healthcare in US

Healthcare is supposed to improve the populace’s general well-being, but one area of healthcare coverage is consistently ignored in current debate: mental illnesses.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 26 percent of the population, or about one in four adults, currently meets the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness; one in 17 adults, or six percent, suffer from severely debilitating disorders. Mental illnesses are far more common than you might think—and yet despite making up such a sizable percentage of medical diagnoses each year, they receive abysmal treatment by both insurance companies and the media.

The United States’ current healthcare system often overlooks those who need its treatments most, that is, the most severely affected by their illness, the potentially dangerous. Some of the most devastating instances of mass shootings were committed by mentally unstable people; in September one such man, Aaron Alexis, killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard as a result of his delusions. CNN reported that Alexis believed that he was  “being controlled by low frequency radio waves.”

“We have systematically dismantled the mental health care system in America so completely that it is now routine for psychotic people, thinking of killing others, to be treated by entry level social workers in community mental health centers, turned away from emergency rooms or discharged from hospital inpatient units if they simply promise not to murder anyone and sent home from court or jail after committing violent acts clearly connected to underlying psychiatric illness,” Dr. Keith Ablow wrote in an article for Fox News.

The current stigmas surrounding mental illnesses and the mentally ill may lead many not to seek medical attention for clear problems. Also consider that those who suffer from mental illnesses are already thought to be unstable, no thanks to the reportage following mass shootings.

These people face discrimination in myriad ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, insurance companies give little to no coverage of mental health treatments. What coverage there is tends to be extremely limited and places most of the cost burden on the patient or their family. (Thankfully, at the University of Puget Sound, counseling visits to CHWS are free, and the clinic even has walk-in hours. The country could learn something from that.)

By dismissing the legitimacy of mental illnesses, thereby ignoring 26 percent of its population, the United States has both greatly increased its risk for more violent crime at the hands of the untreated, and ensured that those one in four adults will have very little chance of ever getting better.

“A person who…has a history of violent crime, voices homicidal ideation and is on a half a dozen medications could easily spend only 48 hours in a hospital, be seen primarily by nurses and social workers…and then be discharged with nowhere to obtain his medications and no one supervising those medications,” Ablow wrote.

Like physical illnesses, disorders like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder tend to worsen if left untreated; the longer America dismisses the validity of psychiatric disorders, the more the mental health of its citizens will worsen.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) actually includes provisions for the treatment of mental illnesses. One of Obamacare’s salient points is its coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and its promise to help pay for treatment, meaning that insurance companies can no longer refuse to cover those diagnosed with mental illnesses. This measure will help about 32 million people who previously had no access to mental healthcare.

We should take advantage of a law that would make a sizeable dent in the mental health crisis in this country. Hopefully, Obamacare will not strangle the healthcare industry with useless government regulations, and instead provide a legitimate source of aid to those who most need the help.