Changing Our Perspective on Mental Health

On Thursday I shared the post, Don’t Make Mental Health Policy About Stigma. Jessica Dawson, the brave woman who was one of several individuals featured in the USA Today article I reacted to in my post commented that she was, “discontented [her] photo is being used on [my blog] to discredit the impact which stigma has on government policies.”

I took that personally pretty hard as I had a sense I was betraying someone because of my ignorance on a subject that I am very passionate about and for which I have advocated here in the Pub. But I have to stick with what I wrote: not because I am sure I’m right – but because it’s what I wrote. In my response to Ms. Dawson I noted that I didn’t believe we had different goals but rather different beliefs in how to most effectively achieve those goals.

And then this morning I came across an article from earlier this week by Judith Solomon for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that is thematically consistent for what I was advocating: the pragmatic role that research and evidentiary support should play in advancing policies supportive of mental and behavioral health access and affordability – relative to (i.e., not exclusive of) the role fighting stigmatism can play in our current economic and political environment.

The article, The Truth About Health Reform’s Medicaid Expansion and People Leaving Jail, presents evidence that facilitating Medicaid enrollment in states participating in expansion under the Affordable Care Act, “can enable more of them to avoid returning to jail or prison by connecting them to needed mental health, substance abuse, or other treatment.  This is why many state corrections agencies and county governments are collaborating with state Medicaid agencies on projects designed to enroll low-income people being released from jails or prisons.”

On average, approximately 75% of the US prison population consists of nonviolent offenders, many of whom have a myriad of mental and behavioral health challenges and/or are fighting addiction. According to Solomon, “alcohol plays a role in over half of all incarcerations, and illicit drugs are involved in over 75 percent of jail stays.” But only 11 percent of inmates receive any type of treatment, while comorbid conditions are prevalent.

I haven’t taken the time to explore the cites and research that Solomon provides, so I want to be careful not to be advocating for something that obviously needs to be carefully considered, debated and vetted. My point is simply this: we should be investing more to determine – and evidence – whether and how this type of policy intervention can help achieve a stronger, more accessible, more effective mental health system.

We need to change our perspective on mental health. Fighting stigmatism – yes, important. I get that. But I believe we should be investing more heavily to educate the country about how intervention and treatment works – and how it can lower costs to families, communities and the country in the long run. There is a much better chance of redirecting funding from other sources than securing funding for new initiatives. That’s the political reality – like it or not.

Cheers,
  Sparky

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with Dr. Bill Thomas

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