In the United States, there is a large stigma regarding mental health issues. The Mayo clinic website explains this well. However also implies that the age of stigma has passed. It hasn’t. People seem much more comfortable saying they have diabetes or asthma than saying they have a mental illness. For many years this has resulted in unequal treatment of mental and physical illness and in employment and insurance, but that may be changing, and it must.
An editorial in yesterday’s LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune notes that:
[I]f we continue to let mental illnesses go untreated because of paltry insurance benefits and under-funding of public efforts at mental health care and intervention, we’ll continue to pay an escalating monetary cost — in law enforcement, in prisons, in emergencycare at the county level of people in extremis.
Last week, the congress and Obama administration passed new laws that are intended to bring equality to the treatment of mental health issues. In a New York Times article, Robert Pear said this:
Insurers cannot set higher co-payments and deductibles or stricter limits on treatment for mental illness and addiction disorders. Nor can they establish separate deductibles for mental health care and for the treatment of physical illnesses.
Such disparities are common in the insurance industry. By sweeping away such restrictions, doctors said, the rules will make it easier for people to obtain treatment for a wide range of conditions, including depression, autism,schizophrenia, eating disorders and alcohol and drug abuse.
Unfortunately, this may not be the case — at least not for everyone. The same New York Times author points out that:
The rules apply to group health insurance plans of the kind typically offered by employers. Federal health officials said the rules did not apply to the individual insurance market, where policies are sold directly to individuals and families. However, some states have laws that apply to the individual market.
Even if the laws apply to individual insurance buyers, it may not be enough. Robert Preidt’s article in BusinessWeek’s Health Day News from yesterday points out:
Fears about losing status at work and about confidentiality are among the main reasons that many American workers are more hesitant to seek treatment for mental health issues than for physical health problems, according to a national survey released this week by the American Psychiatric Association.
Very few of the editorials call for what I think is equally necessary: equal and adequate treatment of mental illnesses in the prison system and administered by the courts. Society’s destigmatized acceptance of mental health will take a lot longer.