A holistic approach to fixing the mental health care crisis

Our mental health care system wouldn't be so overwhelmed and resources so scare if so many people didn't end up needing treatment for reasons that are related to poverty and all the societal ills that come with it: lack of true living wages and upward mobility, a sense of security in health care, housing, employment, etc. So much of the mental health care burden could be lifted by simply eliminating these other barriers to people's wellbeing. Then our mental health care providers could focus on people who have mental health issues that are unrelated to these societally imposed ills. Until we face this, we will continue to fight a self-defeating battle we can't win, always 10 steps behind in a never-ending race to keep up with demand.

This isn't to say that suffering and mental health problems aren't real. They very much are, and people do need care and treatment. But the source of the illness for many is not necessarily nature/genetic, but nurture/environmental, or genetic triggered by the environment.

The descent into mental illness is preventable in many cases. And it can sometimes be lifted by factors outside out a mental health care practitioner's ability to treat. Sadly, no amount of therapy or medication will truly help when the source of pain and affliction originate from one's environment. At best it can dull the pain. It can make a person care a little bit less about their plight. That is unacceptable. That is not conducive to the American ideals of pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.

We do need to do everything we can to improve access to care: to train and hire more providers—from school counselors to psychiatrists; to enable more specialized nurse practitioners to lighten the load of psychiatric doctors; to have more providers and facilities available in or closer to smaller towns where their absence is hurting individuals, families, and entire communities; etc. We need to continue to discuss mental health issues openly and end the stigma (especially for men). We need to be sure people can afford to seek treatment and obtain medication regardless of their income (including those who make just enough to not qualify for assistance, but who still don't make enough to afford outrageous copays). We need to better coordinate care and make sure families of those in crisis have the support they need, as well. There are many things we need to do right now to confront the mental health care crisis head on. And make no mistake, it is a crisis.

But if we aren't tackling the problem from every angle, we'll be pushing that Sisyphean boulder uphill for eternity.