Mental Healthcare: Are All Americans Getting the Help They Need?

If you have ever had life, you know it’s not easy. The struggle is real. And so is depression, anxiety, and general not-feeling-well-but-not-knowing-why-ness. If you are lucky like I am, help is virtually one call away. Fortunately I go to a university that has its own counseling center, plus hundreds of places in the area that offer mental healthcare services. However, not everyone in this country is as lucky. To some of us, the already uneasy life becomes even more so due to the lack of access to mental healthcare services.

The alarming disparities in mental healthcare across the United States struck me hard, when I came across this news article (http://khn.org/news/depressed-teens-struggle-to-find-mental-health-care-in-rural-california/) yesterday. This article tells the story of Shariah Vroman-Nagy, an 18-year-old girl who lives in a small city in Northern California. Shariah suffers from severe depression and has once attempted suicide in her freshman year of high school. Her small city does not have any psychiatric hospital that specializes in adolescents — as if the experience alone is not depressing enough. Shariah’s story makes me start thinking about all the other remote areas in the country. Chances are, there are thousands of Americans out there, who are also suffering and struggling, but not able to get the care they need.

The disparity is more than just geographical. Statistical data shows that, despite of being equally vulnerable to mental health problems, ethnic minorities are much less likely to get treatment compared to the caucasian population. In fact, children in ethnic minority groups are more often arrested from substance abuse, than receiving the care they need. This is about the most inhumane thing a community could do to someone with mental health issues.

What’s more, mental healthcare services are constantly left out of insurance companies’ coverage. Unlike with other medical conditions, one cannot request a blood test for a mental illness. Having no apparent quantitative measure of severity, mental conditions are very often deemed not “medically necessary” by insurance companies. As a result, people that demand continuous care but lack the financial means to afford treatment end up having to deal with their issues by themselves.

All this makes me think, “What could we do as a society to improve the situation?” Part of the reason that people in remote regions do not get adequate access to healthcare results from the career and life choices of our physicians. After having gone through years of rigorous training, many of them make the conscious choice to pursue a career in more competitive specialities such as dermatology and surgery, and make a living in more attractive parts of the country. This is understandable yet very problematic to the society. Some states are trying to pass laws to have medical school graduates who have no residency training or license to legally practice in the underserved areas. This may sound like a good idea to some, but risk the wrongful perception that people in these areas do not deserve “real” doctors. The federal government is also trying to demand insurance companies to have equal coverage for mental and other medical conditions. The results are not particularly satisfying either. Even we have conquered the disparities in geography and insurance policies, there are still the institutional discrimination to ethnic minorities that Americans have been diligently fighting for for decades.