Hansch: Getting mental health treatment is more complicated than you think | Opinion

Conversations about mental health are taking center stage in a post-COVID19 world, as long-term isolation, stress and anxiety have caused one of the worst mental health epidemics in recent memory.

The silver lining of this crisis, which affected nearly a third of adults in the United States during the height of the pandemic, is that frank discussions about mental health are becoming more prevalent. And while it is important to discuss the ongoing negative effects of the pandemic on mental health, not enough focus is being given on solutions and how we can make those solutions possible.

The Lone Star State has not been spared the wave of depression sweeping the nation. According to Mental Health America, 17% of adults in Texas reported experiencing mental illness in 2021. To make matters worse, the outlet ranked Texas last out of 50 states in access to mental health care, with 60% of adults and 75% of young people with a mental illness reported not receiving treatment.

Part of the disconnect between those who suffer and those in treatment is due to the stigma around mental health compared to other health concerns; Ignorance has caused many in our society to view the symptoms of mental illness as a personal predicament rather than what it actually is—a brain condition that requires professional treatment.

The brain is no different than any other organ in the body that can sometimes become unwell and require repair. When a patient has a kidney or lung problem, he meets with a doctor, who then promptly prescribes the most appropriate treatment to deal with the diagnosis.

The process is even more complex for those with a brain disease, as the barriers to treatment go far beyond just societal stigma. The truth is that there is a complex series of barriers in patients’ access to the medications that may work best for them.

Those who struggle with mental illness are often forced to navigate very complex and time-consuming processes with their doctors and insurance providers. For those experiencing severe mental health crises, these processes can take a long time or be so stressful that they abandon treatment altogether. Thus, those who are most in need of assistance are unable to access it.

This is why there is such a clear gap between those Texans who report suffering from a mental health condition and those who are actually in treatment. Our mental health care system needs reform to streamline the treatment process; Texans can’t wait, especially when 6% reported suffering from a substance use disorder, and 4% reported having serious thoughts of suicide.

This reform won’t just come with words – lawmakers need to pass strong legislation to ensure patients have timely access to mental health treatment.

Brain health and wellness is a complicated road to walk, and those who struggle deserve to have their treatment process as simple as possible.

For this to happen, the outdated system of mental health treatment must be improved. It’s not enough talking about it anymore—legislators must play their part in helping pave the way to wellness for Texans who need it.

– Greg Hansch is Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Texas.

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