We are reminded of the seriousness of mental illness when national tragedies catch our attention, such as those at the Washington Navy Yard and the Connecticut school. But this issue should matter to us more often than just at the time of a tragedy.
Consider these statistics from mentalhealth.gov:
• One in five adults has experienced a mental-health issue.
• Half of all mental-health disorders first show up before a person turns 14. Three-quarters of mental-health disorders begin before 24. But less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with mental-health problems receive the treatment they need.
• One in 20 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.
The Affordable Care Act will provide one of the largest expansions of mental-health and substance-use disorder coverage in a generation. Under “Obamacare,” insurance plans will have to cover a core set of services called “essential health benefits” including behavioral health treatment, counseling and psychotherapy. And, as part of what’s called “preventive services,” plans will cover alcohol and drug abuse screening and counseling, depression screening for adults and adolescents, domestic and interpersonal violence screening for women, and behavioral assessments for children.
Of great importance, health plans can no longer deny coverage or increase costs because of pre-existing health conditions, including a mental illness. The coverage for behavioral health services must be generally comparable with coverage for medical and surgical care. Plans have to cover preventive services without charging patients a co-payment or coinsurance.
So, when I read news headlines such as (Reuters, Sept. 19) “Republicans in the House of Representatives on Thursday plowed ahead with a bill to gut President Barack Obama’s healthcare law while temporarily funding other government programs,” I wonder about the mental health of some elected officials. Expanded coverage for treatment of behavioral health disorders under Obamacare in no way infringes on Second Amendment rights to own and use firearms. On the contrary, improved mental illness prevention and treatment services offer the real potential to intervene in tragedies before they ripen into grief.
JOHN BACHMAN, PH.D.