Mental Health Policy: It’s Not As Hard As You Don’t Think

Mental-health-problems-007In my work with healthcare providers and community-based services organizations over the past two years there is one recurring theme that continues to present itself at multiple levels – i.e., personally, professionally and socially: that is the growing awareness of how critically important it is to  integrate mental and behavioral health services with primary care.

Unfortunately, at a popular level mental health in the US has long been synonymous with a disease state – something that needs to be fixed, or at least treated.  The irony of this of course is that we have spent decades worrying about how to fix our healthcare system while all the while forgetting that what we have really had for years is a sick-care system. We care for people when they are ill – we don’t really have an effective system in place to keep them well.

And yet there really isn’t compelling evidence that indicates social investments in health and wellness provide good return on those investments. Education and awareness haven’t had the intended impact. Why?

Could it be that the same underlying drivers impeding the success of health and wellness activities are also manifested as root causes of a variety of physical illness and disease? In other words, in only regarding mental health as a means to cure a problem rather than the promotion of a desired natural state of being are we neglecting a critical element of healthcare reform? I think so.

Admittedly, the policy considerations surrounding mental and behavioral health services are extremely complex, in large part because they interact with so many other policy areas; e.g., Housing, Employment, Criminal Justice and FDA Oversight – just to name a few. Nowhere is this more evident than with one of the most proliferate and threatening elements of mental and behavioral health in America today: addiction.

Rather than try and put forth a meager attempt here to explain the hows and wherefores of addiction, mental health and public policy, I would rather refer Pub visitors to a wonderful post by the One Crafty Mother, Ellie Schoenberger.  In what she titles the most important post she’s ever written, Ms. Schoenberger does a fantastic job of putting a framework around the impact addiction has on society – and how it must be understood from an individual, social and public policy perspective if we are to develop effective policy to address this growing epidemic.

I think it’s a great place to start a discussion, and I hope you will take the time to read it.


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