There has been a renewed call for an examination of the country’s mental health system. Currently, according to a recent government report, there are approximately 7,500 psychiatrists working with mentally ill children and adolescents, but it is estimated that there is a need for closer to 20,000 to be available. Meanwhile, families are hard-pressed to get reimbursement from public or private insurers for short-term mental health services that are available.
In a study released by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2005, researchers found that as much as 50 percent of chronic cases of mental illness begin around age 14, and 75 percent were detectable by age 24. It is now estimated that approximately five million children and teens in the U.S. have some form of mental illness severe enough to cause significant quality of life issues for them and their family members, including bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia. Approximately 10 million children and teens in the U.S. have some type of developmental disorder such as autism or other neurological or intellectual disability, and roughly 50 percent of those children also have at least one diagnosable mental illness as well. But in a system which is not adequately structured to treat multiple diagnoses in children, the number of children in need and the complexity of how to manage multiple disorders means an ongoing lack of appropriate health treatment, education, and advocacy.
The numbers tell a simple story: the U.S. is badly in need of a complete mental health services overhaul. While the Affordable Healthcare Act is being implemented to support the physical health of all the country’s residents, the mental health of millions of children and adolescents (not to mention adults with mental heath and substance abuse issues) continues to falter. The current approach to mental health support means a lack of care or patchwork care, at best, with no coordination between agencies or practitioners or systems.
What is the solution? There is currently no oversight agency, like the Food and Drug Administration, with which to set minimum safety standards and best practices for behavioral treatment and talk therapies. States have seen mental health funding cut by as much as $4 billion over the past three years at a time when early intervention and coordinated services have proven to offer the most promise and can save the expense of later, lengthy in-patient care. It is far past time for the U.S. to view mental health issues as simply health issues, diseases which not only deserve coordinated care, but which must be approached differently in order to save money and suffering down the road.
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