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Hansch: Getting mental health treatment more complicated than you think

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Greg Hansch

Conversations around mental health have become center stage in the 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 to this crisis, which affected nearly a third of U.S. adults during the height of the pandemic, is that candid discussions around mental health are becoming more mainstream. And while it is important to discuss the negative, lingering impacts that the pandemic has had on mental health, not enough focus is being put on solutions and how we can make those solutions possible.

The Lone Star State has not been spared from the wave of melancholy sweeping the nation. According to Mental Health America, 17% of Texan adults reported suffering from a mental illness in 2021. To make matters worse, the outlet ranked Texas last out of the 50 states in access to mental health care, as 60% of adults and 75% of youth with a mental illness reported not having received treatment.

Part of the disconnect between those suffering and those receiving treatment is due to the stigma around mental health compared to other health concerns; ignorance has caused many in our society to perceive symptoms of mental illness as a personal pitfall rather than what it actually is — a brain condition that requires specialized treatment.

The brain is no different than any other organ in the body that can occasionally become unwell and require repair. When a patient presents with a kidney or lung problem, they meet with a physician, who then promptly prescribes a treatment best suited to address the diagnosis.

The process is much more complicated for those presenting with a brain illness, as barriers to treatment go beyond just societal stigma. The truth is that there is a complex series of roadblocks in the way of patients accessing the medication that might work best for them.

Those suffering from a mental illness are often forced to navigate overly complicated and time-consuming processes with their physicians and insurance providers. For those experiencing severe mental health crises, such processes might take too long or be too overwhelming, causing them to forgo treatment altogether. Thus, those who need help the most are unable to access it.

This is why there is such an apparent gap between those Texans who report suffering from a mental health condition, and those who actually get treatment. Our mental health care system needs to be reformed to streamline the treatment process; Texans cannot wait, especially when 6% report suffering from a substance abuse disorder, and 4% report having had serious thoughts of suicide.

This reform will not come by way of words alone — lawmakers need to pass robust legislation to ensure that patients have timely access to mental health treatment.

Brain health and wellness is a complicated path to walk, and those who are struggling deserve to have their treatment process be as simple as possible.

For this to happen, our outdated mental health treatment system needs to be improved. Talking about it is no longer enough — lawmakers must play their part in helping pave the road to wellness for Texans who need it.

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— Greg Hansch is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Texas.