A sys­tem un­built

Men­tal health must be pri­or­ity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - KIM ARNOLD Kim Arnold is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NAMI Arkansas. NAMI, the Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness, is the na­tion’s largest grass-roots men­tal health or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to build­ing bet­ter lives for the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans af­fected by menta

As an ad­vo­cate for bet­ter men­tal health care in Arkansas and in our na­tion, I get asked how I think we need to fix our bro­ken sys­tem. My an­swer is sim­ple, but heart­break­ing.

You can’t fix a sys­tem that still needs to be built.

Fund­ing for men­tal health in Amer­ica seems piece­meal at best, and it seems to be ab­sent or for­got­ten much of the time. Whether it’s the lack of un­der­stand­ing of men­tal ill­ness in gen­eral, the per­sis­tence of stigma that sur­rounds men­tal health con­di­tions and those who have them, or the true “back of the burner” view of the is­sue — a lack of in­ter­est in men­tal health with a pref­er­ence for other top­ics—we’ve not built a sys­tem to prop­erly treat, or help pre­vent, men­tal ill­ness.

At the same time, fund­ing for men­tal health care is cited in govern­ment as a key com­po­nent for fac­ing some of our great­est chal­lenges to­day. In sit­u­a­tions like the opi­oid epi­demic, the con­sis­tent and dis­turb­ing rise in sui­cide rates, par­tic­u­larly among our vet­er­ans, and in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence where men­tal health treat­ment was noted as lack­ing, elected of­fi­cials call for stronger men­tal health care.

And they are cor­rect. We need more care. And we need con­sis­tent care; care that isn’t left in jeop­ardy.

Yet ac­tions do not fol­low those words. What we’ve seen this year is an ef­fort to go back­ward, leav­ing the U.S. with less money to treat more peo­ple who need it.

Med­i­caid is the largest provider of men­tal health ser­vices in the coun­try. Re­form bills in­tro­duced in Congress, in­clud­ing the House-ap­proved Amer­i­can Health Care Act, will make se­vere cuts to Med­i­caid. None of these pro­pos­als in­crease fund­ing nor pro­vide the means to es­tab­lish the foun­da­tions for a strong na­tional sys­tem. In­stead, they threaten to push us back­wards, leav­ing more cit­i­zens sick and un­treated.

Peo­ple who are de­pressed, who feel they are be­com­ing un­sta­ble, who are fright­ened of what they are think­ing, will have even fewer out­lets to find help. Sadly, some won’t find that help in time.

We will con­tinue spend­ing our money on men­tal health, let’s be clear. If the fund­ing is not there for suf­fi­cient di­ag­no­sis, treat­ment, re­search and pre­ven­tion, then we will con­tinue to spend it in all the wrong places. We will spend it in costly emer­gency rooms, in jails and pris­ons, on home­less­ness, and see it in school fail­ure.

In a coun­try as strong as ours, there is no rea­son to wait un­til the worst has oc­curred to re­spond. By then, ca­reers are ru­ined, fam­i­lies are dam­aged, and lives may be lost. To pro­vide the men­tal health care that Arkansans need, we must build a sys­tem that can prop­erly ad­dress and pre­vent ill­ness.

With all due re­spect to our con­gress­men and sen­a­tors, cut­ting Med­i­caid will not get us there.

Af­ter the rush of votes last week, health care may no longer be on the im­me­di­ate front burner. Even if the votes stop, the needs of Arkansans with men­tal ill­ness do not. The is­sue will re­turn to the U.S. Capi­tol soon enough.

Un­til then, let our lead­ers know that men­tal health care should be a pri­or­ity and not an af­ter­thought.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.