Michigan can set example on mental health

Mental or behavioral health care addresses a variety of needs — including treating patients with autism or Down syndrome, depression, anxiety, as well as substance use disorder.

Every Michigan family can be impacted by those conditions, so the quality of behavioral health coverage in our state should concern us all.

Unfortunately, most health care coverage falls short of what’s needed for proper mental health care of Michigan residents. Michigan’s current public mental health system is high-performing, but further state funding and support would make it even more helpful to those seeking mental health treatment.

Most urgently, the private sector needs to expand and improve insurance coverage for mental health treatment. Where there is private mental health coverage, it is often unaffordable. Narrow insurance networks make it difficult for patients to find a provider in-network, forcing them to pay costs they cannot afford if they choose to pursue treatment. Getting approvals for mental health treatment can be time-consuming and often difficult when someone is in the middle of a crisis.

We are experiencing a growing mental health crisis in our country.

There are 60 million Americans with mental health conditions, including over 1.3 million in Michigan, and nearly half of them go without any treatment. There are often few options for psychologists and psychotherapists, particularly in rural areas. Over the last 10 years, there has been a staggering increase in overdose deaths as well as a rise in alcohol and drug addiction.

Society’s view of mental health needs to change at its core.

We need to view addiction as a disease that requires the same level of care as physical ailments. Visiting a therapist or psychiatrist must be treated as important as visiting a primary care physician. The stigma around mental health care must be removed.

It will take a combination of efforts from the state, federal lawmakers, private insurance companies, and business owners to address those coverage inequities and improve the quality of mental health care in our state. We have an opportunity to make a systemic change in how we treat mental health crises and their aftermath to ensure the best outcomes.

Key components of crisis care must include:

∫ facilities: a welcoming place where a person can recover from a crisis, plus drop-in centers to support recovery;

∫ people: mobile crisis teams to provide intervention and de-escalate, persons to support, guide, and mentor those in recovery, including at home, school and work settings, and

∫ wraparound services: a team of professionals to provide support for children and adolescents with mental health needs and their families.

As some Michigan and federal legislators look to the private sector as a solution to mental health needs, these critical services could be at risk.

Mental health care can’t be viewed as a luxury or extra benefit. It must be an essential and equitable part of health care.

Everyone in Michigan should have access to convenient, affordable care and a comprehensive array of affordable mental health services, from crisis care to long-term wraparound services. Fair and equal coverage, treating mental health with the same importance as physical health, is essential for Michigan residents to thrive and overcome mental health battles.

One positive is that mental health needs are receiving increased attention from policymakers, from standalone legislation from the bipartisan House School Safety Task Force to increased funding in the 2023 state budget recently passed.

Those common-sense approaches to improving mental health care are a strong sign that our state leaders are taking mental health care seriously and doing everything they can to support improving access to quality care.

Solutions must also come from the federal government. The lack of coverage for essential mental health care services in many private insurance plans must be improved. And business owners should be more thoughtful when identifying health care plans they offer to employees, choosing options that will allow their workers to receive the best mental health services available.

Between additional funding from the state and sincere efforts to improve mental health care access, Michigan can set an example and move closer toward the comprehensive, quality, and affordable mental health care its residents deserve — especially as it relates to crisis care and all essential follow-up treatment.

Monique Stanton is president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy. Robert Sheehan is chief executive officer of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan.


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