Kjell Magne Bondevik – the prime minister of Norway – was diagnosed with depression and took a leave from work. Sounds believable? It happened in 1998.
In the last decade, ideas about mental health have gained a powerful resonance. From more than 10,000 apps that help with mental health problems to the hugely popular movement #timetochange, the conversation around mental health has acquired an encouraging momentum. As the healthcare industry is transforming, our understanding of mental health is broadening. Many health specialists are now assimilating mental health concerns under the more expansive term – behavioral health.
Where do you think we stand in terms of awareness about mental health and how it is provided across the US? A brief snapshot of the perception of mental health amongst the US population might look promising to you. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2019 showed that:
The CDC had predicted that by 2020, depression will become the second leading cause of disability in the world. Estimates show that CDCs warning was not unfounded. In the last decade alone, depression has increased in the US by 60% with a sudden increase of 20%, in suicide rates. At the same time, greater initiatives are being taken on a global level to promote mental health and wellbeing.
In 2015, the UN adopted the agenda of Sustainable Development Goals which prominently mentioned mental health as part of the new global development initiatives. An impressive number of 194 countries have signed up in support of this agenda. All of this is a huge step forward. While countries, at large, and institutions make grand promises some lingering organizational constraints need discussing.
1) Insurance Companies in US
Thanks to the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, insurance companies were made liable to provide mental health coverage in the same way coverage is provides for physical health. But sadly this doesn’t mean that the exploitative structure of these huge insurance companies doesn’t find legal loopholes to save themselves from the extra labor and, money that could be spent on increasing accessibility to health care and support providers.
In 2016, a lawsuit was filed against the insurance provider United Behavioural Health which denied a longer coverage for a young boy suffering from heroin addiction despite the warning of his treatment center. Unable to afford a longer stay at the treatment center, the boy was taken home. He was found dead of an overdose ten weeks later.
This is not an isolated tragedy. Once you begin reading about this, you will realize that it is a countrywide crisis.
2) Lack of resources!
A recent study in 2018 reported that there is a large disparity in mental healthcare provision amongst different states. Texas, Georgie, and Wisconsin rank the lowest in terms of lacking adequate mental health service providers, facilities and funding. The American Journal of Preventative Medicine has found that 51% of counties have zero psychologists. Just last year in 2019, between 400 miles in North Dakota and Montana, there were only two psychiatrists.
The point is: there is still not sufficient money being spent on racking up the country with mental healthcare professionals. In light of all the global attention at mental health, we need to spend the next decade making sure that more infrastructure and officials are available to address the mental wellbeing needs of the people.
3) An awareness issue?
A recent survey by the APA shows that the attitudes of adults towards mental health may be taking a bad turn. It was found that the age group of 18-34-year-olds were more likely to associate shame with mental health disorder than the other older age brackets. In an unexpected shift, it was found that 35% of 18-34 year-olds believe that mental health disorders do not require treatment and almost 23% of them believe that people with mental health disorders cannot live normal lives.
To sustain a serious conversation around mental and behavioral health, we might have to concentrate our efforts towards the younger adults and spread awareness about the significance of mental health support.
It is high time we begin translating all our conversation about mental health into actual results that can transform our nation – a country that is swept up in a storm of a behavioral health crisis!