What’s standing in the way of mental health recovery?

Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W.
Director, Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Yesterday, Paolo del Vecchio told his personal recovery story and shared a set of elements that help define recovery. Today, he puts recovery into perspective with health reform.

Opportunities for Recovery under the ACAdelvecchio

To recover, individuals need access to quality, affordable health care and mental health services. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expands mental health and substance use disorder benefits and parity protections to an estimated 62 million Americans and heralds a new era of hope for people with mental illnesses.

Beginning January 1, 2014, millions of uninsured Americans with mental health and substance use conditions will have access to health insurance coverage, many for the first time. In addition, thanks to the new health care law, beginning in 2014, insurers will no longer be able to deny anyone coverage because of a pre-existing mental health condition. Individuals will be able to sign up and enroll for insurance beginning in October of this year. People should go to www.healthcare.gov to find info on how to enroll.

The ACA, in combination with federal parity legislation, is changing the way health care is designed, delivered, and paid for in this country and greatly expands the opportunity for recovery.

Barriers to Recovery

Yet, it’s important to remember that the passage of health reform does not ensure that communities will be supportive and accepting of those in recovery.

Widespread prejudice and discrimination toward people with mental illnesses continues to exist and discourages Americans from seeking access to treatment and support.

To address this, President Obama recently hosted a day-long conference with health care experts, mental health providers, people with lived experience and their family members, mental health advocates and faith leaders, and federal and state officials to kick off a national conversation about mental health in the United States. (Read more about the National Conference on Mental Health.)

“We know that recovery is possible, we know help is available, and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health.” –President Obama

President Obama called on all Americans to be more open about mental health issues and accepting of people with mental health conditions. He expressed hope that by working together, private-sector groups, nonprofit organizations, and government can raise awareness, reduce prejudice and discrimination, and encourage open conversation and recovery.

Budgeting for Recovery

To that end, the administration’s 2014 budget includes a variety of measures to increase awareness of mental illness. These measures include the following:

  • $55 million dollars for SAMHSA to support Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), which includes $15 million allocated to Mental Health First Aid training
  • $25 million for Healthy Transitions to develop innovative state-based strategies that support young people ages 16–25
  • $50 million for workforce development to train and hire more mental health professionals, including peer providers

The goal of these initiatives is to increase awareness of mental health issues and connect young people with behavioral health issues and their families to needed services.

With the support of the administration, we will work to engage parents, peers, and teachers to reduce negative attitudes toward people with mental illness. And we must train them to recognize the signs that a young person may be experiencing a problem and help guide them to appropriate supports.

What We Can Do

While initiatives like Project AWARE will be vital to advancing mental health care, our most important task—and biggest challenge—is changing the conversation about mental health and mental illness in this country.

We must continue to work to raise national awareness of the possibility of recovery from mental illness. For it is only when recovery is accepted as the expected outcome that recovery will truly be within reach for everyone.

Moving forward, we will continue to work with the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Veterans Administration, state and local governments, national and local organizations, and the American people to advance the behavioral health of the nation and share the important message that recovery is real. SAMHSA and its federal partners have many resources available to support these efforts to raise public awareness including SAMHSA’s ADS Center (Resource Center to Promote Acceptance, Dignity, and Social Inclusion), National Recovery Month, and MentalHealth.gov.

We must use the power of our community speak up, share our stories, spread hope and inform the national dialogue, and I look forward to working with you on this essential effort.

How are you speaking up about mental health in your community?

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I'd like to say that if we are going to concern ourselves with mental health reform, we should begin with the quality of treatment.   There are many patients that hand their insurance money and personal funds over to someone who sits and listens to them talk, week after week, year after year, and does nothing to help them.   Be aware that you may be throwing your money away by seeing a "talk therapist."   There should be guidelines for care, and records kept in order to make certain that therapists are actually DOING THEIR JOB.   I went to different therapists for close to 20 years, and still have the same set of problems that I started with.   I was just recently told that I was "drug resistant" and couldn't be helped by medication.   After 20 years?  Really??   I have paid enough into therapy to build a therapist a HOUSE.   My advice to someone who is considering this route is: save your money.