Improving mental health care requires awareness

The Daily Reflector, page 4A, Greenville, NC, March 1, 2020.

2019 NC Schweitzer Fellow

You may have heard the terms “wellness” and “mindfulness” being thrown around more often these days. They signify how our views on mental health have changed compared to over 50 years ago.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals changed how the United States approached mental health, reducing the available care and causing many patients to end up with nowhere to go. Since then, this population has begun to fill up prisons and hospital emergency rooms due to lack or resources or places that can take care of them.

Prisons are poorly equipped to handle these needs, and hospitals are already overflowing with medical patients. We also see this manifest in the homeless population with around 25 percent of them having a mental health issue compared to 6 percent in the non-homeless.

As a society, we have made some progress destigmatizing mental concerns and increasing social acceptability of receiving treatment for mental health diagnoses. We are giving more attention to finding ways to better treat and care for people with mental health conditions.

One of the many ways we can help improve mental health is at the individual level like changing attitudes by using non-judgmental speak, avoiding terms like “crazy” or “insane” and normalizing mental wellness will help show others your support. Volunteering at mental health screenings or attending workshops to learn more is also another great way to have a positive impact in your local community.

One of the more impactful ways to help create change on a larger scale is with advocacy and voting for changes in policies to help shift funding toward better mental health services. With support from state and local governments, hospitals can devote more resources and care to psychology departments for adults with schizophrenia or similar needs.

Patients with minimal supervision or support can live in designated small communities similar to senior living communities so that they can control their lifestyle while still getting care they need.

Another strategy involves newer, more innovative models of care, including the integration of mental health services into medical settings. Patients receive mental or behavioral health counseling the same day of their visit, which simplifies care and increases screening efficacy.

This reduces the chances of people slipping through the cracks while normalizing mental health as an integral part of the field of medicine. Patients with difficult diseases like schizophrenia don’t deserve to be in prison for things out of their control, and many of those who are homeless would be functioning, contributing members of society if they had access to the mental health care they needed.

The important steps above — being an advocate, voting for supportive policies on mental health care and continuing to spread awareness — can help reduce the incidence of mental illness. Everyone should have the right to a peaceful state of mind as much as their personal health, as both are equally important in one’s wellness.

Duy Huynh is a second-year medical student in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, and a 2019-2020 NC Albert Schweitzer Fellow. He is from Charlotte.