What Mental Health Consumers Need (Besides Treatment)
Thursday, February 11 2016 Becky Oberg
There are three things besides treatment mental health consumers need. I have an interesting life. I am a low-income mental health consumer, and most of the people I know are either treatment professionals or low-income mental health consumers (Reach Out To The Right People For Mental Health Help). We have many needs--obviously treatment is one of them--that people may not consider. So here are three things mental health consumers need (besides treatment).
Mental Health Consumers Need Affordable Housing
Recently I was in an intensive treatment program with several homeless people. The social workers couldn't do much besides hook them up with shelters--there simply is not enough affordable housing. In my city, Indianapolis, there is a two-year wait list for Section 8 housing, and the wait list is closed. I'm told the problem is not unique to Indianapolis.
The point was driven home to me when I was playing a board game designed to teach people about homelessness. In order to get into a shelter, a bed had to be available, the caseworker had to assess your needs (the caseworker could send you to a pay-by-the-week motel if you stayed at the shelter too long), and if you were an addict/alcoholic you had to be in some kind of treatment program (acceptance into which was determined by rolling a two or a 12). In order to get into an apartment, you had to save up the deposit and first month's rent prior to move-in--all while unemployed or underemployed and paying living expenses. Affording housing for a mental health consumer is a game of chance with odds comparable to the lottery.
We need more affordable housing, which we can create by offering tax credits to landlords who rent to low-income individuals and passing legislation such as rent caps. And we must ask ourselves, "What are we willing to do to ensure there's an adequate safety net available?" This may include sucking it up and paying higher taxes to do the right thing.
Mental Health Consumers Need A Better Healthcare System
Recently, my Medicaid switched prescription drug coverage. Unfortunately, this resulted in two of my medications being challenged. The insurance company wanted to lower the dose of my antipsychotic and completely deny my anti-insomnia medication. While my doctor was able to get the antipsychotic covered at the current dose for the year, the anti-insomnia medication was denied because it's not typically used for my diagnosis. The result? While I was typing this, I was so sleep-deprived I typed "prescription drug coffee" instead of "coverage." Why is my insurance company more qualified than my doctor to determine what medications I need?
It's not just medication coverage that's the problem. I lost my life savings after I was hospitalized without insurance for mental illness. Despite being psychotic and suicidal, I almost wasn't admitted because I didn't have insurance--if the doctor hadn't overridden the hospital's social worker, I might not be writing this. Our socioeconomic status should not be used to determine whether or not we get treated. Mental health consumers need a better healthcare system (Three Reasons The Mental Health System Suffers). It's the law to treat a person, regardless of their ability to pay, if their life is in danger. The same should be true for mental illness.
Mental Health Consumers Need Easier Access to Treatment
I was discharged from the Army with a 30-day supply of psychiatric medications and a list of treatment providers. It took three months to get in to see a psychiatrist who took my insurance. Then, when I first decided to get sober, my social worker was unable to find any programs willing to accept me due to my history of mental illness. My psychiatrist was unwilling to fill out the paperwork needed to get me admitted to the Salvation Army's program because I was a functioning alcoholic, so I continued to drink for two years despite wanting to get sober. I finally got a new psychiatrist, who, almost immediately, got me into a state-run dual diagnosis program. Ironically, the state-run program often neglected my psychiatric symptoms and instead focused on my substance abuse, which was fueled by my psychiatric symptoms.
Anyone who wants treatment should be able to get it, period. And it should be the right kind of treatment. I moved into the city proper to get better mental health treatment; and geography should not determine what our treatment is. We can encourage people to become mental health treatment professionals by offering tax credits and student loan forgiveness for the ones who work in high-use areas. We can reroute money allocated for drug criminalization to treatment programs, as they've done in Europe. We can open more mental health courts to keep people with mental illness out of the criminal justice system. So there are three needs besides treatment that mental health consumers have.
What would you add to the list?