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Susquehanna Health Behavioral Health Professional Addresses Mental Health Parity

Williamsport, PA (PRWEB) December 05, 2013

A recent government rule designed to bolster the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) by requiring equal health insurance coverage for Americans experiencing mental illness has drawn considerable attention in recent weeks. Susquehanna Health (SH) Behavioral Health’s Stephanie King, CRNP, believes this improved access to behavioral health care will greatly benefit the community. “Mental health treatment and recovery is possible, but patients need to be able to access mental health providers and medications for this to occur,” King explained.

“What people may not realize is there have historically been lower reimbursement rates to providers of mental health services. This coupled with lack of insurance coverage and higher Medicare co-pays for mental health visits have resulted in a system that is challenged to meet the mental health needs of our community. Improving access to high quality mental health care benefits everyone,” said King.

Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicate that each year, one in four adults (about 61.5 million) experience mental illness. Additional data show that 14.8 million suffer from depression, 2.6 million are diagnosed with schizophrenia and 6.1 million with bipolar disorder. In Pennsylvania, according to NAMI, 448,000 adults and 129,000 children suffer serious mental health conditions. “Sadly, here in Lycoming County, 22 lives were lost due to suicide this year,” explained King.

Healthy People 2020 (HP2020), a 10-year program designed to improve the health of all Americans and guide national health promotion and disease prevention, provides statistics to help monitor progress at the state and county levels. One of Pennsylvania’s objectives, according to King, is to reduce the rate of suicide in the state to 10.2 per 100,000 residents. In Pennsylvania and Lycoming County, suicide rates were 11.7 and 11.8 respectively in 2010. “The suicide rate in Lycoming County has increase from 2002-2006, when it was at 9.1,” noted King. “Suicide is almost always the result of untreated or under-treated mental illness,” King explained.

Despite research and educational efforts, King believes the stigma that accompanies mental illness still remains. “There is such a misunderstanding about mental illness, its causes and treatments,” she said. “Many people do not seek treatment because of this and it has detrimental effects. I spend a great deal of time teaching my patients and their families about the biological causes of mental illness because there is a misconception that mental health is a choice. We would not tell a person with cancer or heart disease to ‘snap out of it’, but there is this belief that anyone with mental illness has a choice about how they are feeling.”

According to King, lack of coverage, high deductibles and high co-pays can often lead to inadequate or no treatment for those who need it. “The law seeks to ensure that insurers cannot charge larger fees for mental health services than they would for medical services. Historically, this has been a huge roadblock for us, and one of the reasons mental health care continues to be stigmatized,” she explained.

Research over the last few decades has unveiled models that explain the role of genetics in mental illness, according to King. This information indicates that genes, proteins, chemicals called ‘neurotransmitters’ and certain areas of the brain are directly involved in mental illness. In addition, some medical illnesses and medications can also contribute to symptoms of mental illness and depression. “Mental illness is complicated, involves multiple body symptoms and cannot be fixed with exercise, better diet or pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” King explained. “If it were that simple, I would be unemployed because no one chooses mental illness.”

Early and effective treatment, improves a patient’s quality of life by enabling them to remain involved with their family, job and community. Conversely, untreated mental illness and stress worsens symptoms. “Overall, treatment is possible and effective. We need to do everything possible to improve access to care. Improving the mental health of everyone in the community improves the overall health of the whole community,” King explained.

In addition to providing high quality mental health care for patients, professionals at SH Behavioral Health develop partnerships with local agencies and work to educate the community and encourage seeking appropriate care. “Our staff volunteer at many community events, provide radio interviews and are actively involved with other community outreach venues such as the SH Spirit of Women program,” said King.

This year, SH Behavioral Health also participated in National Mental Health Recovery Month in September to promote mental health recovery throughout the region. “We organized and sponsored a community-wide mental health expo at Williamsport Regional Medical Center featuring more than 20 local agencies and support groups,” said King. SH intends to continue offering this annual expo to increase the awareness of mental health resources and provide opportunities for community education. “We are also working to improve our collaborative relationships with other community health providers to form an organized mental health network to better serve mental health needs of our community,” said King.

About Susquehanna Health

Susquehanna Health is a four-hospital integrated health system including Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital, Soldiers + Sailors Memorial Hospital and Williamsport Regional Medical Center located in Northcentral Pennsylvania. Serving patients from an 11-county region, Susquehanna Health is a healthcare leader and has been recognized at the national and state levels for quality of care. Susquehanna Health offers a wide array of services that include cancer care, heart and vascular care/heart surgery, neurosciences including neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, OB/GYN, gastrointestinal services, behavioral health, physical rehabilitation, home care, long term care, assisted living and paramedic/ambulance services.

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