Our knowledge of mental illnesses and disorders has increased in the past 70 years. However, misconceptions and stigmas persist. Common ones are 1) mental disorders are a character flaw or a sign of weakness; 2) people with mental illnesses are violent; 3) people with mental illness cannot function normally; 4) mental health problems do not affect children and youth; 5) persons with mental illness cannot or should not work. These misconceptions affect persons with mental illnesses and their families and friends. Persons experiencing mental health issues are reluctant to seek help, and their families and friends do not want to encourage them to do so.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 60% of adults and 50% of youth ages 8-15 years did not receive mental health care in the past year. The average delay between onset and intervention is 8-10 years.
Parity in mental health insurance coverage is not available in all health insurance plans. Plans lacking parity can charge more or even deny coverage for mental health services, can limit the number of visits, can refuse to cover medication costs, or can require a person to call and get permission to get mental health care covered. The lack of parity adds to the stigma of seeking care. Access to care varies greatly among the states and even within a state.
Undertreatment and lack of treatment costs about $444 billion a year for medical care, disability payments and lost productivity.
We know that treating physical illnesses in the early stages saves money and lives. Treating mental illness when first diagnosed would also save money and lives. Current treatments include medications, talk therapy, Electroconvulsive Therapy, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Because our knowledge of the causes of mental illnesses is not complete, it may take months, or even years, to find a treatment that works for an individual.
I am not the first one to suggest this, but I strongly support this idea - our insurance plans should cover one mental health exam every year beginning at age 5. Imagine the change that would have on the lives of individuals, their families and our society.