Mental Health Care Deserves More Attention
Published Online: Wednesday, January 2, 2013
I remember a partner of mine saying, “I get weirded out by those lithium psychos. They look at me with those eyes!” I also remember agreeing with her. My dad was diagnosed with manic depression a long time before it became the trendier-referenced bipolar disorder. It made for some very interesting times in my childhood development. I, without question, looked down my nose at psych patients. I didn’t see them as sick; I saw them as just flat-out weird.
Since the universe is rife with irony, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder myself in 2005, which helped change my outlook on patient care for the better. Suddenly, I found myself in the same predicament as a fair number of my patients. I was able to empathize with their demons and see them as suffering from an illness in the same way that somebody with diabetes suffers from an illness. I could see where they were coming from and talk to them about it. I’d even share a few of my “war stories” with them. When a patient was shy about picking up their psych meds for the first time, I’d break the ice by saying that I was in the same boat or, at the least, the same body of water.
I talk about my illness in the same manner that a heart surgery patient shows you his incision scar. I talk about it because doing so helps me as much as it helps my patients. Mental illness has to come into the light. Sweeping it under the mat can have dire consequences. The case of Adam Lanza has proved that point.
Unless you have been on an expedition to the South Pole for the last 3 weeks, you know that Lanza killed his own mother (who, for some reason that is lost to me, taught her mentally unstable son how to fire assault weapons and failed to secure them), 6 brave adults who died trying to stop him, and 20 absolutely innocent first graders, whose parents heard the horrifying news that their babies would not be coming home from school ... ever again. My heart breaks for those parents as well as the citizens of Newtown, Connecticut. Their lives will never be the same.
Mental illness has only recently begun to be viewed on the same plane as other diseases by insurance companies. By 2007, I had expended the entire lifetime allotment of outpatient mental health services provided by my health insurance. From then on, I would have to pay out of pocket for my therapy sessions and psychiatrist visits. As a result, I went to them less often than I should have, and in February 2008, I got really manic and broke through my medications. This whole thing was missed because of my infrequent outpatient visits, and I ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a week. This episode actually cost my insurance company (and me) more money than the outpatient services would have. Thankfully, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, signed in October of that year, put an end to this sort of coverage disparity.
Even so, mental health services are still typically the first item to be slashed out of public health care budgets. Free mental health screenings are decreased and many problems are overlooked. As a result, I have seen many indigent people walking around talking to themselves. They are the ones who need our help, and we are turning our collective backs on them. This must stop. We don’t want what happened on December 14, 2012, to ever happen again. Proper mental health care can play a big part in that. Peace.
Jay Sochoka, RPh, is not crazy ... he’s bipolar.