The Public Health system promotes the treatment and prevention of disease through education and proper health care treatment. This system assists with the spread of knowledge in regards to various health ailments found in society. Addressing physical health issues from a public health standpoint has made the public as a whole informed of various medical conditions and how to effectively prevent and manage them. Mental health concerns have been addressed a great deal less by the public health system and therefore mental health concerns remain a great deal more misunderstood and unaddressed than do physical health concerns. If mental health and addictions were considered from the public health standpoint, much of the ignorance surrounding these illnesses would be minimalized and the stigmatization of these individuals would decrease as well.
The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 sought to make mental health care as accessible to individuals as physical health care is. This more holistic approach to mental health and physical health care is encouraging because it identifies the patients need to adapt and recover from his or her condition while living the quality of life they strive to achieve. If mental health was given the same consideration as physical health needs from a public health standpoint, services would likely be a great deal more accessible to those in need. If mental health treatment was covered through insurance and funding in the same way that physical health services are, I believe that spending could be decreased (1) . Emergency room visits and other emergency services would become less common because symptoms would be addressed before they became immensely problematic in many cases(2) .
The recovery movement is empowering to consumers of mental health care, despite it at times being overshadowed by diagnoses and symptom management protocols. Individuals with moderate and severe mental illness have been found capable of achieving a remission of sorts, a healthy recovery where they are able to function happily and to the best of their ability while being largely unencumbered by symptoms. This is a hopeful framework and suggests that mental illnesses can be treated and remedied in a manner similar to physical illness. Too often, mental illnesses are treated as a lifelong condemning infliction, and while to some degree, mental illness symptoms may never completely disappear in an individual, they can be treated and diminished. By developing a more clearly defined sense of identity, strengthening one’s healthy social network, and becoming better able to manage one’s symptoms and medications, an individual can progress towards a recovery similar to that discussed in addiction treatment. If mental health was addressed as a public health concern, mental health conditions would be normalized to society as a whole, making the idea of recovery an empowering and realistic outcome similar to how cancer remission is achieved through medical intervention.
The public health system empowers mental health clients by giving them a say in their treatment as opposed to suffering in silence. When a consumer’s voice is heard in treatment, he or she will be more empowered and therefore more likely to excel in treatment. This approach is far more person-centered than other approaches to treating mental illness and that is why a recovery-based treatment of mental illness is beneficial to the mentally ill. This process emphasizes the agency of the patients being treated and gives them the ability to take control over their lives and their illness.
Because of the risks and negative side effects of medications, it is important that consumers are educated in other ways to stay healthy both mentally and physically including following a proper diet, exercising regularly, and refraining from drug use. It is important for mental health practitioners to provide clients with information about the medications and treatments they are receiving so that the clients can make informed decisions about their care. This can be empowering to clients because it can create a sense of control over their care. If mental and physical health concerns were addressed holistically through the public health system, health care will become a great deal more well rounded and person centered.
Addressing mental health through the public health lens would decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness and make mental health a topic that can be freely discussed in society. If this was the case, we would likely see an increase in mental health peers working in the field with other mentally ill clients. If a mentally ill patient is able to work side by side with a peer, learning strategies that help them to maintain a successful recovery and benefiting from their support and example, the client will generally be able to find and maintain a better sense of recovery.
Both clinicians and consumers are integral forces in mental health care treatment because of the unique knowledge and skillsets they each possess. By addressing health holistically, stigmas can be alleviated and society can become more educated and aware of how to recognize, treat, prevent, and respect both mental and physical health concerns.