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    Posted January 25, 2014 by
    South River, New Jersey

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    The Mental Healthcare Crisis

    By: Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP

    The USA is facing changes in healthcare like never before. With the passage of the ACA act and implementation of “Obamacare”, Americans are talking about medicine. People are trying to enroll in insurance through the new insurance exchanges to avoid paying tax penalties. The media is overflowing with stories of the failures and successes of these attempts. But, there is another healthcare crisis that has been going on in this country for years that has not been addressed. That is the crisis of mental disease.
    One of the reasons that contribute to this lack of mental health services for patients is the stigma associated with mental illnesses. People are often labeled “crazy”. Time and again it has happened to me that I suggested to a patient that they seek an evaluation from a psychiatrist and they refused because they know they are not “crazy”. Additionally, when symptoms are attributed to diseases such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and many more, they are no longer seen as medical conditions. People are often told to just “get over it”. Many patients are generally frustrated because they are not doing well and people don’t believe they have a “real” medical disease. However, these diseases are indeed real and treatments are available. Many have a hard time with employers qualifying for short term disability because of mental health diagnoses.
    Another great contributing factor to the mental health care crisis in this country is the lack of appropriate insurance coverage. Mental health services are often covered via a different route than traditional medical services. Patients are often locked in on certain providers and do not have so much freedom to choose whom they want to see. Many psychiatrists in my area have adapted a cash only model which eliminates services for a great portion of the population that I treat. Often when I refer a patient to a specialist for a mental health condition, there is a 3 month or longer wait. There are just not enough mental health professionals willing to see these patients who need services.
    Mental illness comes in many forms. It is as equally disabling and life afflicting as other medical diseases. We need to address this crisis and help those suffering these diseases get the help they need. Everyone needs to understand that mental illness is not a choice or something a patient can just wish away. More trained providers are needed, with doctors as team leaders, and insurance companies need to cover services. When people who are suffering common diseases are unable to get help or are made to feel embarrassed to ask for it, that is a true healthcare crisis.
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