Across the world, October 10 is hailed as World Mental Health Day. A program of the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), World Mental Health Day has been observed since 1992. WFMH’s mission is to promote the advancement of mental health awareness, prevention of mental disorders, advocacy, and best practice, recovery-focused interventions worldwide. World Mental Health Day is one way WFMH seeks to recognize the goals of this mission.
Each year, WFMH outlines a special theme for World Mental Health Day. This year, the coronavirus pandemic has not only revealed enormous health inequities across the world, it has also exacerbated existing mental health inequities. That’s why WFMH has chosen for its 2020 theme, “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access.”
Mental Health Inequities Across the U.S.
In 2018, the National Council for Behavioral Health and Cohen Veterans Network published a comprehensive study of access to mental health care in the United States. The study found what was described as a “mental health crisis in America,” with a much larger demand for mental health services than there are current providers and services available. An overview of the results found:
- 56% of Americans are seeking or wanting to seek mental health services for themselves or a loved one.
- 74% of Americans do not believe mental health services are accessible for everyone.
- 46% of Americans have had to or know someone who has had to drive more than an hour roundtrip to seek treatment.
- 31% of Americans have worried about others judging them for seeking mental health services.
- 25% of Americans reported having to choose between getting mental health treatment and paying for daily necessities.
The study highlighted issues of access between rural and urban areas, as well as how income affects the ability to access services. 53% of individuals who did not seek mental health treatment were living in low-income households.
The high cost of mental health treatment, including insufficient insurance coverage, was also highlighted in the study. 42% of the study participants saw cost and poor coverage as the top barriers for accessing mental health care.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health
The onset of the pandemic has placed additional strain on an already under-resourced mental health system. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 53% of adults in the U.S. reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Even more worrisome, a June 2020 CDC report found large increases in substance use and suicidal ideation as a result of the pandemic.
These reports and studies point to a larger trend in mental health care: Many mental health providers and advocates warn that a pandemic of mental illness will be the next large public health crisis in America. The incredible impact of COVID-19 on individuals’ mental health is what has prompted the WFMH to address access and mental health equity as its 2020 theme for World Mental Health Day.
Increasing Access to Mental Health Care
The WFMH and many advocates consider mental health care as a human right. Accessible mental health care is a foundation for health care in general, and it is urgently needed as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic.
There have been some improvements to mental health access since the beginning of the pandemic. Expansion of reimbursement of telehealth services, for example, has opened up services to many individuals who would otherwise not have been able to safely see a mental health provider.
However, the struggle for full access and equity continues. For example, new rules proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would decrease reimbursements by 7% in 2021 for mental health providers. This new rule threatens psychotherapy, testing, and integrated care for older Americans and people with disabilities, especially. The American Psychological Association (APA) has advocated strongly against this new proposed cut in reimbursement rates.
Cuts such as these are why the WFMH has included “greater investment” in its 2020 World Mental Health Day theme. Without proper investment in mental health care services from governments, mental health care access will continue to be a struggle. Ingrid Daniels, Ph.D., President of WFMH, makes this call to action:
“We invite you to join our call to action in highlighting the need for greater investment in mental health particularly during this global health emergency and thereafter.”