Thursday, July 19, 2007

No single answer to severe mental illness

The reform of restrictive treatment laws is the focus of the Treatment Advocacy Center. While success in that effort would bring needed psychiatric care to tens of thousands of people now abandoned to the most acute symptoms of severe psychiatric disorders, improved commitment laws are not the sole, or even chief, solution for people with these illnesses. When it comes to a myriad of illnesses that impact people in a variety of ways, degrees and manners at different times – there is no one answer.

What is needed are effective systems and laws that can offer treatment targeted to the specificities of each illness, condition, situation and person. An admirable attempt to advance our woeful mental system towards that full and reactive system of care is the push for insurance parity. That what are now almost uniformly accepted as types of physical illnesses should be treated as other conditions seems self-evident, but is distinctly not the practice in most cases.

Congress is now considering national legislation that would require mental illness to be treated in insurance policies like any other. It has done so in a string of past years, but this session’s effort looks to have a chance. Among parity’s backers are former First Ladies Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter, who pointed out in a recent op-ed that patients affected by mental illnesses “should be treated with the same urgency and diligence as patients with any other disease.”

The campaign for parity is rightfully one of the primary advocacy goals of many mental health advocacy groups. If attained, a national parity law would mean more treatment resources for people with severe psychiatric disorders. But is parity THE answer? No more, by itself, than commitment law reform is. For instance, parity would be irrelevant to the many people without insurance and mean little – absent the use of interventions – for those who are so sick that they don’t know it.