Lansing

Mental health access may help millions

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Americans wait for good news about the Affordable Care Act, as the Health and Human Services department scrambled to fix its website this fall.

Yet those unable to get or afford health care now might still be saved. New essential benefits declared by the ACA on their website could be the answer for many Americans struggling with mental illness across the country. Greta, a Lansing, Mich. native, has great hope for advancements in the mental health field because of its new-found accessibility because of the ACA.

“I became involved in NAMI when my daughter became ill the summer after her sophomore year,” said Greta, 70, of her daughter’s harrowing story that began in 1997.

NAMIlogotagline-color-lg

Photo courtesy of nami.org.

The local Lansing National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, is a branch of a national organization that helps provide services and referrals for those who are mentally ill, and was the only place that would refer Alexandra* to community services without hesitation.

At age 19, Alexandra was at her peak. She had just received her acceptance letter to the School of Engineering at Michigan State University when it unexpectedly struck, said Greta.

“We actually hospitalized her the day she got her letter of acceptance.”

Alexandra had started hallucinating and having delusions, rendering her unable to function. The diagnosis was initially unclear, starting as depression and then bipolar disorder to schizo-affective disorder — an illness that causes a disconnection with reality and mood instability.

Alexandra, now 34, lives out of state with her significant other who cares for her every day. Without someone there, said Greta, her daughter would most likely not be able to function. She said what worried her the most was not knowing whether or not her daughter was “thinking” that day.

The community mental health authority located in Lansing, Mich. Photo courtesy of ceicmh.org.

The community mental health authority located in Lansing, Mich. Photo courtesy of ceicmh.org.

Greta has found passion in working with NAMI Lansing over the years. She said she believes that the ACA, now listing mental health as one of the 10 essential health benefits, has the potential to help many Americans living with mental illness who are unable to access care. Yet it remains unknown whether people will take this opportunity to get mental health care at all. The first issue she admits, is the stigma associated with mental illness.

“People will admit to substance abuse before they admit to having a mental illness,” said Greta.

One of the main issues is the fact that Medicaid does not extend coverage to single adults with no children unless they are determined “disabled.” Greta argues that not only do people not want to be labeled disabled, but the system leaves them in a never-ending cycle of being unable to get or afford care.

The second issue, said Greta, is funding. Without the funding for these kinds of services, many single adults will go without treatment. According to a WKAR Current State report, Bob Sheenan, executive director of the Community Mental Health Authority in Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties, said that there are 30,000-40,000 adults living in the tri-county are who do not have mental health coverage, barring their access to services.

In addition to the ACA, another bill introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow into the senate and the house, named the “Excellence in Mental Health” bill would provide more federal funding for Medicaid per individual on or not on Medicaid, so that they may be able to access community mental health services.

Greta stands at the finish line of a walk for mental health.

Greta stands at the finish line of a walk for mental health.

Greta said that she is thankful that her daughter could be claimed on her family’s insurance which helped her to receive the care that she needs, unlike many others. Still, she experiences heartache seeing her daughter live with this illness.

“I don’t see anything other than a miracle or a new drug coming out that will help her,” said Greta.

Yet she holds onto the hope that access to mental health care will lead to more funding and research for advancements in medication and treatments.

“I do hope that if we get improved access to care, they will put in the money for some research for some good diagnostic tools,” said Greta.

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*Names have been changed to protect identity.

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