Recently, I had an opportunity to comment for an article in the Chicago Tribune, “More people are seeking out mental health care, but psychiatrists are in short supply: ‘It’s getting worse’ ” ( ). I chose to focus on the shortage of psychiatrists, a particularly vital component of community mental health care. This critical issue is a core component for anyone dealing with mental illness, and it is a resource that we must protect and expand whenever possible.

Mental health providers depend upon two crucial elements to support individuals and families in their recovery journey:

  • A personalized treatment plan, which may include:
    • Case management
    • Individual therapy
    • Group therapy
    • Psychiatry, which includes considerations of medication and medication monitoring
  • The therapy relationship, built in a respectful collaboration with the client

Limiting any of these treatment tools takes away necessary supports from community mental health care providers. This limits providers’ ability to be effective and limits clients’ capacity to live their lives to their full available capacity.

Limiting access to care is the slippery slope of a downward spiral. Those who can no longer access proper mental health care are unnecessarily and unfairly threatened with having to manage without proper support. Under these conditions, these clients may no longer be able to hold onto their jobs.  The loss of a job means bills cannot be paid and ultimately can transform the formerly productive into the now homeless. With the loss of a job and of a home, most also lose their health care. Once productive, contributing members of the community are no longer taxpayers or voters. Some who were always a law-abiding citizen may turn to crime. Those who previously were self-supporting, may now be relegated to dependence upon public benefits.

When this happens, access to mental health care becomes a community issue and a population health issue. Those who may think “mental illness doesn’t involve me” are denying the reality that mental illness will impact one in four of us during our lifetime. At every moment that has a tremendous and negative effect on our neighbors and our civic culture. Just as we all pay for public schools even if we don’t have children in school, we must maintain the mental health of our community. It’s the small price of living in a community. Ensuring that those with mental illness get the care they need is not only the compassionate thing to do, it is the best thing, the easiest thing, the most cost-effective thing for the community. It’s the right thing to do.

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