Mental health resources cannot exist without proper access

David Dam

Despite the fact that one in five Americans faced mental health problems in 2014, only 60 percent of U.S. adults with a mental illness received treatment, and measures to address inadequate services and rising costs are often stalled. With all of these problems, construction on a first-of-its-kind mental health center last week in southeast Austin does not alone guarantee its widespread access. Constant policies and efforts must address the two barriers that mental health patients often face: ease of accessibility and availability.

Once finished, the Judge Guy Herman Center for Mental Health and Crisis Center would be devoted to assess, stabilize and treat mental health patients. This center is a safe alternative to psychiatric hospitals and hospital emergency rooms that are less efficient and not specialized towards these patients’ needs.

But not everyone can easily have access to this sort of specialized treatment. Common obstacles include the high cost of treatment and the stigma that discourages people from seeking help. Texas refuses to expand Medicaid coverage — unlike the 31 other states and the District of Columbia that have — leaving 406,000 Texans suffering from mental illness or substance abuse without health insurance.

Linguistics freshman Ana Mitchell said she believes significant efforts should be made to ensure everyone gets access to proper mental health resources.
“I would say that both availability and accessibility are very important, but it’s not very conducive to have a state of the art facility or other highly available resources if it can only serve certain groups of people,” Mitchell said in an email. She also emphasized the importance of diminishing the financial burden of health care and spreading the knowledge that resources and help are available to people who may not know about them.

While campus mental health resources are financially accessible for students at UT, encouraging students to actually use these resources is paramount. Stigma over mental health issues is the number one barrier to students seeking proper help.

The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center publicized their extended hours for any students who may feel the need to seek support, especially with many students affected by this week’s unfortunate tragedy on campus. Katy Redd, assistant director for prevention and outreach of CMHC, said CMHC tries its best to reach out to all student demographics.

“In our outreach efforts we work diligently to cultivate partnerships with student groups and units across campus so that we can reach a wider audience with our programs and resources,” Redd said in an email. “We aren’t perfect and are always looking for ways to improve our reach to the campus community.”

Efforts to increase the availability of mental health services should be commended. However, the availability of resources alone cannot adequately address mental health patients if they cannot access those resources. Barriers to these resources may vary, but the impact of eliminating them is tremendous.

While addressing costs and availability of proper services will require some sort of government action, we can start the fight against stigma. Mental health services should not be a conversation brought up after a tragic event. They are a right for all individuals at all times.

Dam is a linguistics freshman from Austin. Follow him on Twitter @daviddamwrite.