When people think of the stigma associated with mental health care, it is usually referred to in an abstract sense. The average individual would say that he or she does not discriminate against people with mental health disorders, but the problem becomes significant on a national scale. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25 percent of adults with mental health illnesses believed that people are truly sympathetic and willing to help them.
There is no easy solution to removing the stigma against mental illness possessed by a larger collective consciousness, but activists can take concrete steps to limit institutional discrimination throughout the government. This may be more difficult than first thought, as the health care system may actively deny care to patients solely based on their mental status, USA Today reported.
Discrimination against mental health
Many mental disorders, such as depression and borderline personality disorder, require long-term treatments to produce positive change in the individual. However, this often comes with a hefty price tag that the average American is unable to pay. When they turn to health care and insurance systems for help, former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy explained that they are more likely to be sent away than treated.
“Mental health is a separate but unequal system,” Kennedy told USA Today. “We have a wasteland of people who have died and been disabled because of inadequate care.”
Kennedy pointed out an esoteric but still extant section within the laws governing Medicaid. When the legislation was still being drafted in the mid-20th century, Congress gave hospitals carte blanche to use funds for physical illnesses, but prohibited them from applying the same money to mental health treatments.
While the rule is not applied across the board, it may be used to cut treatments or admissions. Patients are discharged and returned to the street without having ever received the care they deserve.
The Medicaid provision only governs federal funding, but states often have trouble finding the finances to provide mental health treatment for their own residents. Between 2009 and 2012, individual states closed 10 percent of their psychiatric hospitals due to a lack of funds.
“The federal government has set so many barriers to getting care, which they have done with no other type of illness, and it is wrong,” Rep. Tim Murphy (R.-PA) told USA Today. “There is no other area of medicine where the government is the source of the stigma.”
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, people who can prove at least one of the following criteria are protected from institutional and private discrimination:
- A patient has a mental impairment that severely limits quality of life in one or more major areas
- A patient has a past history of such impairment
- A patient is suspected of having such an impairment.
As politicians and activists continue to fight for greater awareness and less stigmatization of mental health issues, providing effective treatment may have to begin at the highest levels of government.