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While the cost of health care is discussed in the political arena, locally there are those working to alleviate the financial burden for one specific aspect: mental health.
“It’s definitely an issue,” said David Coe, executive director of Colonial Behavioral Health. “In my experience, people might not recognize it. A person with mental illness isn’t dealing with symptoms like the flu, but it still impacts your overall health.”
Colonial Behavioral Healthcare is a local organization that provides mental health resources to low-income and non-insured individuals. Coe said the organization typically serves nearly 5,000 people annually who are coming in either without insurance or the specific coverage of mental health care.
He said the recent expansion in medicaid has helped and the number of uninsured people who come into CBH has gone down.
Coe added that despite the expansion, there are still a number of services at CBH that aren’t covered by Medicaid or some health insurance providers.
To help that issue, Coe said CBH provides services on a sliding scale of charges — based on the income the individual makes so that way they can find a plan to afford their mental health care.
Services at CBH are funded by federal, state and local grants, Coe said.
Corey Trench, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Williamsburg chapter and of Hope Family Village, said a large part of the issue is the cost of mental health care can fall onto the family caregivers.
Hope Family Village is a local nonprofit that supports families and caregivers to those with mental illness. NAMI is a support, education and advocacy organization for individuals with serious mental illnesses.
“[Five] years ago, we concluded that there was no way government, at any level, would garner enough consistent funding to tackle the real needs and problems,” Trench wrote in an email. “The burden would always fall to the family.”
Trench said the nation began depleting resources at federal, state and local hospitals in the late 1950s, which caused the burden of care to fall back onto the families and the limited local mental health care professionals. It’s a difficulty that still continues today.
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For those who don’t suffer from debilitating mental health issues, but more manageable ones, there still is a struggle to pay for resources just for themselves.
It’s an issue at a larger level because mental health is something that impacts more than just a person’s emotions. Coe said people have to recognize that mental illness can cause a strain of physical wellness, too.
“There’s a tremendous amount of overlap in what occurs with mental health and in primary health care,” he said. “For instance, research has shown that if you’re treating some kind of chronic disease, the cost of providing those services with that disorder and a mental illness can double.”
Coe said they’ve found treating an individual for a mental health condition, such as depression, can have a resoundingly positive impact on overall health. This is especially true for those suffering from chronic conditions, because the individual can focus on their physical recovery.
Another important part is getting people to understand that their mental health is just as important as their physical health.
“Mental illness often manifests itself differently,” Coe said. “Folks appear to be behaving differently so it’s easy to classify them as different and move them to the side. But the reality is mental illness originates within the brain, and the brain is just as much an organ in the body as the heart or liver.”
He said people have started to become more aware and understanding of mental illness in recent years but in terms of cost, it can seem like something that should be put to the side.
“I think we do have a greater awareness of mental health issues,” he said. “But there needs to continue to be an understanding that mental illness is treatable and people can and do recover.”
That’s why he said it’s important to recognize resources in the local area, such as CBH or NAMI, even if a person doesn’t feel they directly need them.
“A lot of folks don’t pay attention to the resources in the community until they start looking for them,” he said. “But most families will deal with someone that has a behavioral health challenge at some point in their lives.”
Editor’s note 2: This is the second installment in a three-part series looking at mental health.
Follow the series: