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Mental Health Care for "Normal" People

One in five Americans will receive a psychiatric diagnosis this year. Why isn't mental health care a bigger priority?

“’Normal’ people don’t need mental health care.” That’s what we, as a culture, tell ourselves. Mental health care, after all, is for “those people." The homeless guy we drive past on our daily commute, for example, might be someone who needs mental health care--or someone with an addiction, or maybe a dangerous criminal we hear about on the news. When we hear mention of “the mentally ill,” we don’t normally think of ourselves or our friends, family members or peers.

Whether we call these ideas stereotypes, common sense, conventional wisdom, or unexamined assumptions, most of us walk around with beliefs about mental health, which may or may not be based on present-day truth. For example, our stereotype is that normal people have jobs and responsibilities. They have families, friends, neighbors and, often, kids. Normal people are those we see as predictable and reliable, worthy of our trust. They don't behave strangely. They go to the doctor, but they don't need mental health care. They are successful and happy.

An estimated one in nine Americans is prescribed a psychiatric medication, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control.

If we accept these stereotypes at face value, it makes sense that we have a societal blind spot when it comes to this piece of our health care. We tune out media coverage about big policy decisions that determine who gets help. We pretend that mind and body aren't inextricably connected. If we believe mental health is only for others, we might be part of the 96% of a group surveyed by the American Psychological Association, who have never heard of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a federal law that was passed, with great effort, to help more Americans access mental health care. We wouldn’t know to care that the Trump administration recently passed a final rule that could jeopardize the Parity Act’s protections and create a market for insurance plans that might leave out mental health care altogether.

According to the American Psychological Association, 96% of Americans are unaware of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. This hard-won legislation increases access to mental health care.

Occasionally, though, we’re all faced with incontrovertible evidence that the lines we draw between “normal” and “those people" are not so clear, and we’re challenged to reconcile the two. Maybe it’s a friend or a family member who seems to be struggling. Or a news story about a normal-seeming individual who commits an act of harm. Suddenly, something that hasn’t had much to do with us hits, closer to home. In real life, normal people do seek professional help. An estimated one in nine Americans is prescribed a psychiatric medication, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control. One in five will receive a psychiatric diagnosis each year. Because so many normal people seek medications from primary care physicians, they may not even be on our common radar as being a part of the mental health care system. But they are.

Normal people face tough circumstances that challenge their ability to cope. Normal women experience post-partum depression. Normal fathers realize, after their child is diagnosed with ADHD, that they also experience and struggle with symptoms, too. Normal people realize that their anxiety is making it hard to enjoy the success they've worked so hard to attain. They have relationship problems, professional setbacks, and life altering health conditions. Some very put-together, accomplished, normal people decide that the way they've always been isn't working anymore. The truth is, when you need mental health care, you need it. When that time comes, normal people cross their fingers and hope that they have “good” insurance coverage. They search for professional help and hope to find a provider who works with their insurance company. Mostly, “normal” people fall through the cracks of our system and continue to suffer. Sadly, in our society, that's normal.

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