According to ABC News, the latest alleged Ft. Hood shooter was struggling with a number of mental health problems, “ranging from depression to anxiety to sleep disturbance,” and in the midst of being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
If true, it’s a familiar story of a stressed-out soldier with mental health issues and easy access to guns: we’ve been here before.
Of course, we don’t know exactly what kind of care or treatment this shooter was receiving — and the VA system is generally better than others. Still, it’s worth reviewing the history of legislation to put mental health services on equal footing with all other medical care.
The latest policy brief
published in the journal Health Affairs
, documents the convoluted history of mental health parity, the idea that mental health care and treatment be comparable with all other types of “physical” medical care (and why make the distinction, anyway)?
Parity efforts began in earnest in the late 1990s, but still aren’t fully implemented today, despite widespread support, including from notable advocates like former Congressman Patrick Kennedy.
The paper examines some of the obstacles remaining to true mental health parity, including these:
…”Critics have argued that parity legislation alone is not enough to fix other underlying problems in how our health system provides access to treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.
The supply and availability of mental health providers has been the subject of numerous research articles. A 2009 Health Affairs article by Peter Cunningham found that two-thirds of primary care physicians reported that they were unable to get outpatient mental health services for their patients–more than twice the percentage who reported trouble finding specialist referrals, nonemergency hospital admissions, or imaging services. Mental health professionals tend to be concentrated in high-population, high-income areas, and the lack of mental health care providers in rural areas as well as in pediatrics has been well documented. Finally, there is still a stigma associated with receiving mental health or substance use treatment. Eliminating the stigma and increasing the availability of high-quality providers are two keys to increasing access to care.
…Much of the debate in implementing parity is around determining equivalence of services between mental health/substance use benefits and medical/surgical benefits. Some of the treatments for mental health and substance use disorders do not have an equivalent medical/surgical treatment, Continue reading