Remove barriers to treatment

Published 9:02 am Monday, May 16, 2011

May is Mental Health Month. It’s a time to remember that overall good health includes good mental health. Our heads are connected to our bodies. Many people with physical illnesses, such as diabetes, epilepsy or heart disease also have depression and anxiety.  Unfortunately, when people have a mental illness, they face huge barriers to accessing treatment and supports.

While we now have mental health parity on the state and federal level (provided your coverage is not with a small employer or single coverage), parity does not always result in good coverage of mental health treatment. It simply says that your insurance policy must cover mental health care in the same way it covers physical health care. This results in many people being underinsured.

New high deductible plans are also presenting barriers to accessing mental health treatment. Paying for ongoing treatment and medications out-of-pocket can become a huge barrier to people with low or even middle incomes. Studies show that middle-income families with even a $1,000 deductible often delay accessing treatment for their children.

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State funding is used to help pay for treatment for people who are uninsured or underinsured. But those dollars are shrinking. Cuts were made last year to this funding stream and they are on the chopping block again this year. Programs that were begun in 2007 as part of a bipartisan effort to reform the mental health system and which have already shown to be effective in reducing costly hospitalizations, are also slated to be cut in the Senate health and human services funding bill.

Untreated mental illnesses affect us all. They result in increased hospitalization or out-of-home placements, more homelessness and incarceration, and higher school suspension and dropout rates. They also result in disruptions to families and a loss of people who can be participating members of their community.

So when we think about promoting good mental health, we need to think about removing barriers to accessing treatment for mental illnesses.

Sue Abderholden

executive director

National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota