“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Mental health clinicians are rarely at the table. Mental health has always been given the short end of the stick when compared to specialties and surgical procedures regarding focus, funding, and preference in clinical settings and research, as well as policy-making.
It’s no wonder, then, that mental health clinicians were scattered during Medicare’s implementation in the 1960s. Organized psychiatry and other mental health interests reportedly worked feverishly for the inclusion of mental health services in the benefit packages of both Medicare and Medicaid. Of note, the American Psychiatric Association at the time held a conference highlighting the issues that Medicare would cause in the mental healthcare industry if inclusive actions were not taken. And they were right. Why weren’t the nuances of mental health care (e.g. inpatient versus outpatient, etc) included back then, then?
In the 1980s, HMOs became increasingly popular to combat healthcare costs, but, yet again, mental healthcare was largely excluded from the conversation (some even argue it was completely side-stepped). And with the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act in 2008, the Affordable Care Act had a leg up on previous legislation and policy regarding mental health. However, having a psychiatrist on the policy-making team would have provided a much more robust, rounded rendition of what ended up getting signed into action. The call for doctors to be included in politics is not new, and now is the time to see this desire to become reality in America.
“You pay for what you value, and you value what you pay for.” While most political appointments are volunteer, the fact that no one with a mental health background is front and center is an issue. Why is there a Secretary of State? Of Defense? Because we think those things are important. The void around an appointed trained mental health clinician in government and policy is baffling, especially given the state of health and wellness in the US and how it is directly, intimately tied to the pandemic.
The pandemic has exposed the inequities and disparities in many aspects of society, but especially in the mental healthcare system. Countless people have been denied affordable and accessible care while policymakers fail to adequately address the crisis. Worse, psychiatrists are being left out of the prevention and mitigation conversation altogether. Instead, we’re asked to give interviews about the effects of bad policy and botched execution. This creates a cycle of calamity where collective mental health continues to spiral out of control, and with no source of insight or acknowledgment to proactively combat the issue on a societal level.
Though it has been brought to a higher level of public awareness, mental health and mindfulness are still not being regarded as worthy investments by policy makers and government officials (otherwise we would have less focus on military spending and more on mental and emotional health budgets instead). A simple and effective way to resolve this issue quickly would be to include a mental health clinician on every team and work group that is tackling one of the biggest issues our world is facing today. Appoint a Child Psychiatrist to the National COVID Task Force now.
Child psychiatrists are board certified to work with both adults AND kids. This means they know how to liaise better than almost any other physician. They are best suited to meet the needs of every developmental stage of the human experience, from birth to puberty to young adult and beyond. Excluding a child psychiatrist from conversations on health and wellness means diminished voices of our future leaders and workforce. Consider the obvious and reported effects on kids’ mental health over the last three years: by leaving out child psychiatrists, we’re actively working against our best interests.
Furthermore, and on the practical side, psychiatrists are experts in messaging and communication. This pandemic has been a communication nightmare. There was little delineation between containment strategy and risk mitigation strategy; this led to some folks sheltering in place when they didn’t need to, creating anger and resentment toward those who were out and about. The school policy and guidelines were inconsistent and patchworks of chaos, creating guilt and shame for parents who had no choice but to send their children to school so that they could continue to work and earn a living.
Obviously, the whole “unprecedented” aspect of all that COVID-19 has dumped onto our lives, jobs, schools, the economy, etc. is not solvable by one person, or title, or group. But involving the individuals that are the most suited for taking care of the mental and emotional health of all people is absolutely a step in the right direction towards solving this pandemic and the avalanche it has brought with it. Psychiatrists need to demand equal inclusion and treatment. It is not about therapists finding the spotlight to stay relevant; therapists given a platform will create more opportunities for mindfulness and mental health to receive the investment it needs for the next (read: already here) epidemic: mental health.
Preparing mental health clinicians for practice and public engagement is Simply Psych’s speciality. Our goal is to help support a generation of leaders in the mental health sector. Thus, as we grow from this tragedy, we lay the groundwork for mindfulness, acceptance, and wellness. Visit www.SimplyPsych.com to see what else we’re up to.
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