Our mental health problem

I worked for a psychiatry practice when I was in graduate school in Connecticut in 1989. The practice was based on the town line between Hartford and its affluent sister, West Hartford. From that vantage point, I became used to mental health services and how they were — or weren’t — covered by insurance.

Here’s what I learned: Even the best psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist could not “cure” someone of their mental health issues in, say, the span of a few months.

And even the best insurance plan limited the number of visits its experts thought someone needed. Usually to about 10.

Those whose insurance didn’t cover their needs often paid from their own pockets and, fortunately, in that part of the country, there were plenty of people who could afford to pay.

But there were also the people whose insurance didn’t cover the service, whose pockets were depleted, and who simply used the service, but then failed to pay their bill.

That was where I came in.

A couple of days a week, I called those people and asked them to pay.

I wish I hadn’t done that.

When we say “mental health problem” we are using a broadly over-arching term for a pain that is deeply personal and, ultimately, incredibly specific to the individual.

That is one reason why it is so difficult for a professional to treat and a patient to overcome. Therapy is a journey taken by the two, often to the darkest places in the patient’s mental world. It is intense, protracted and requires more trust than most of us possess.

And it is nearly impossible to pay for.

There is no vaccination to prevent it.

There is no prescription for a cure.

Healing a mental illness is like walking over a field of broken glass. The trip will most assuredly be painful, so getting someone to walk it is a remarkable feat.

Even on the eastern seaboard, where you can almost spit and hit a psychiatrist, the odds of getting from one side of that broken glass to the other are long.

Here in the rural Heartland, the odds are longer.

We know there are not enough mental health professionals in Iowa.

We know there is not enough public funding to help assist anyone with a mental health crisis whose personal pocket is not deep enough.

We know that there is a crisis in health insurance coverage right now, let alone mental health insurance coverage.

And we know that, despite it being 2017, there are those among us who still consider seeing a “shrink” a sign of weakness.

I can’t single-handedly fix those facts, but I can refute the last one.

It is the strong who seek help.

Not the weak.

If you think I’m wrong, willingly walk across a stretch of broken glass and then we’ll talk.

Jane Curtis is the editor of The Messenger.