Is It Time For An Overhaul Of Mental Health Policy?

With emergence and public attention garnered by high-profile, mental-health-related incidents in the United States over the past few years, there has been increasing attention and debate focused on public policy for mental health care. As a result, many counties, states, and even the federal government have begun to rethink all or parts of their policy regarding mental health care and how it should be addressed and funded. Not surprisingly, an increasing amount of debate and calls for change have been coming from mental health professionals, government officials, and even the public at large.

Former US Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher once famously said “There is no health without mental health.” This famous statement rings true now more than ever at a time when mental health disorders are eclipsing all other disease conditions as a general share of worldwide disease and disability. Naturally, we can all try to pretend that this is not the case, or that the medical science community can come up with a chemical answer. But, in the case of mental-health-related conditions, this has, historically, proven to be a perennially unsuccessful tack. Alternatively, we could focus on introducing quality, effective mental health treatments and services, and disseminate them into every communities and families that are in need.

Mental health care for adults between the ages of 18 and 64, from 2009-2011, costs have recently risen to $48 billion. Nearly half of this amount – $22 billion – was spent on psychiatric pharmaceuticals. Interestingly, overall health care expenses during this period were directly related to mental health conditions. Medicaid covered about a quarter of tab, Medicare covered about 15%, and private insurers picked up about a third. So, a great deal of money is already being spent. But, is it being spent wisely?

Many experts believe that the future for the next 10 years of mental health in America will not derive from scientific breakthroughs in decoding our DNA or fancy new pharmaceuticals that are different from the current set of offerings. Rather, the next 10 years in public mental health policy gains might come from closing the so-called “science to practice” gap – the leap that scientific discoveries need to take from the laboratory into practical applications.

For example, scientific advances in cancer treatment, for example, have made for more targeted, and effective, treatments. Scientists are beginning to see biological markers in psychiatry and the addictions that indicate patient risk. Some experts believe that a new era of precision medicine sharpen our approaches and improve rates of success.

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