Mental health treatment hard to access

A recent study by the National Alliance for Mental Health shows that treatment of the mentally ill is lacking in Oregon. It is imperative that we treat those suffering from mental disorders with the same rigor as those with physical disorders.

The national advocacy group gave the state a C+ for treatment of mental illness in its 2006 report. Oregon was graded highly on the infrastructure of the mental health facilities, and mediocre on information access and services.

The sad thing is that this grade is an improvement. In 2004, controversy raged over the decrepit condition of the state’s mental hospital, as well as its treatment of deceased patients. Copper canisters containing the cremated ashes of thousands of patients were found in an abandoned building on the Oregon State Hospital grounds. An emergency legislative session was called to tackle overcrowding in the state hospital. The building is considered unsuitable for patients because of its lack of emergency safety features in case of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake.

The mentally ill are one of the groups facing the most discrimination in the country. People use adjectives like “crazy” or “mental” as insults. In criminal complaints or acts, details of a person’s mental disorder are emphasized. Diagnoses are difficult, and most people are uneducated about the many facets of mental illness.

Medications are needed to treat the disorders, but, in some cases, they cause more of a problem than a solution. My generation is well aware of the attention deficit disorder “epidemic” of the early 1990s and the overmedication of Ritalin and similar drugs. At that time, there was an over-diagnosis of the disorder. It has gotten much better due to research on the mental disorders plaguing children, with emphasis on treatment and prevention. Americans like to treat mental disorders with medication, without digging into the deeper problems of treatment.

One thing that people forget to discuss is the difficulty of obtaining insurance. Full-time employment at a company is needed to get covered by certain types of insurance. Unemployment is decreasing in Portland, although the number of uninsured residents is still high. If you are otherwise uninsurable, you potentially qualify for Medicaid or the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). Unfortunately, many of us are aware of the inconsistent and insufficient coverage by OHP. Many hospitals and caregivers do not accept the OHP, and it emphasizes managed care over other types of treatment. In short, if you are covered by the OHP and suffer from mental disorder, you can potentially drown in the bureaucratic red tape before you can access treatment.

Visits to a mental health provider can be costly as well. If you are a full-time student at PSU, you qualify for the student insurance program. This term was my first time registered as a full-time student. I did not receive my insurance card until last week. In this coverage, I am permitted to have five total visits to a psychotherapist at $20 per visit. Prescription drugs are not covered.

Mental health care for outpatients is even more difficult. Oregon passed a mental health parity law last year that requires health insurance providers to give the same coverage for mental illnesses as for physical illnesses. The insurance companies tried blocking the law, and are still working to make it difficult to cover prescriptions or visits to a psychiatrist.

Many states, including Oregon, allow court-ordered mental health treatment, which permits the state to intervene if a mentally ill person is considered a threat to himself or herself or community. It is a way of forcing treatment onto those who are unlikely to seek it themselves. It sounds good in theory. However, it perpetuates the stereotype of the mentally ill being unstable and irresponsible. If mental health resources were more readily located, those suffering from disorders would be more likely to seek them out.

I am empathetic to the sufferers of serious mental disorders. What does it say about our country’s democracy when there is no equal medical treatment for everyone?