Is Mental Health (Finally) Becoming a Top Priority?

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Although mental illnesses are often less visible than physical ones, their effects are no less significant. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that almost 44 million American adults, or 18 percent, experienced a mental illness in 2014 and the estimated financial cost of mental disorders is at least $467 billion annually. And this is only the economic cost – mental illness is also complicit in the breakdown of relationships, families, and can lead to violence and deaths in extreme (and unfortunately, not uncommon) cases. Suicide ranks in the top 15 most common killers in the United States, and mental illness accounts for over 90 percent of those cases.

Is Mental Health (Finally) Becoming a Top Priority?

With such a high rate of prevalence and cost to society, it would stand to reason that the treatment of mental illnesses would be a priority for any government.  In recent years the health care systems at the federal and some state governments have started to take steps in the right direction; however, progress has been slow, and a combination of budget cuts and legal battles have put many of these efforts at risk.

Health Insurance Mandates

Scientific American reports, “by 2002, 29 states had mandated that health insurance packages cover mental illness on the same terms as physical illness, and in those states the suicide rate fell by an average of 5 percent. But…in the past three years, states have cut up to 39 percent of their mental health budgets” which directly affects those who can not afford private care. The Affordable Care Act helped to close those gaps, as it required insurance plans to offer behavioral health coverage (including mental health and substance abuse help). However, political opposition to any government involvement in healthcare could prevent as many as 32 million Americans from having access to affordable mental health care.

Trouble Meeting Demand

Further compounding the problem is a mental health care system that is inadequate to meet the demands being placed on it. Between 2009 and 2012, states cut a combined $4.35 billion from their mental health care budgets with the biggest budget cuts made to long-term inpatient care facilities.

The Guardian quotes Paul Applebaum, a psychiatrist and an expert on legal and ethical issues in medicine and psychiatry, to say the “right to care does not mean access to treatment…tens of millions of people who did not have insurance coverage may now be prompted to seek mental health treatment, and the capacity just isn’t there to treat them.”

Why This Matters

Working towards your Masters of Arts in Counseling or Masters of Arts in Human Services degrees at Wake Forest University prepares graduates to be on the front lines in the delivery of health care and counseling services. Wake Forest University’s online Masters of Arts in Counseling and Masters of Arts in Human Services degrees are preparing skilled, compassionate counselors and human services professionals to make a positive difference in the lives of others. They equip students with the knowledge and clinical understanding to help those who need it most, including vulnerable communities or those for whom access to care may be limited.