August 27, 2013

In My Opinion: Access to treatment is crucial

As behavioral health professionals, we know that mental illness and substance abuse does not discriminate against class, color, race, gender or socio-economic status.

We also know that health-care professionals are not immune to these problems and overall, are afflicted at the same rate as the general population — just like diabetes, heart disease or many other health concerns.

I was reminded of this fact when I read about the recent arrest of a local psychiatrist for allegedly forging prescriptions for controlled substances. While we don’t know the details of this particular case and we should not rush to judgment, the event does offer the opportunity to provide the public with information about a significant health concern.

Mental illness and substance abuse occurs with a high degree of frequency and has a far greater impact on premature death and disability than either heart disease or cancer but rarely gets discussed with the same level of openness as either of those health concerns.

The World Health Organization lists psychiatric disorders as the No. 1 burden of disease in the United States and Canada. Alcohol-use disorders rank third, just behind heart disease.

Yet the public dialogue and the overall funding for these disorders lags far behind other health concerns and often falls victim to the same stigma that unfortunately still burdens many of those afflicted with these disorders.

Nationally, 45.6 million adults had a mental illness in the past year, and 20.6 million had a substance abuse disorder in 2011. Yet we know we are only treating a fraction of those who could benefit from services.

It’s time to shed light on this problem, integrate behavioral health with primary care and public health and eliminate the stigma that prevents many from openly discussing their concerns or seeking treatment.

Our agency works with people who struggle with these issues on a daily basis and have found the courage to choose a path to recovery. That’s the good news: There are choices, and treatment works.

September is National Recovery Month, which reminds us all that we must continue to work to assure access to the necessary treatment and supports for anyone who may be struggling with a mental-health or substance-abuse problem — for the sake of all involved and for the overall health of our communities.

Craig Amoth is president and CEO of Behavioral Health Services North Inc.

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