Lack of Parity in Treatment in the Mental Health Care Field

A bill was recently passed in the House of Representatives to insure that there existed parity among mental health patients and physical health patients regarding treatment. However, this parity shows only a lack of fair treatment, when it comes to me and my fellow mental health consumers and the way we are treated by the medical system as a whole. We are suppose to have the same affordable services available to us, as well as the high standard level of care with concern to customer satisfaction, that all people receive. This should be the case whether payments are through private or public insurances, which give us the opportunity to receive these services.

Perhaps it’s the stigma regarding mental health that still exists. This stigma exists not only among the general public but also within the ranks of mental health treatment teams, which include doctors, nurses, social workers, and many others. On the other hand, it could be that the “powers that be” do not see an impending need for the type of care we need and the undoubtable existence of it being a life and death situation, as is often the case with physical needs. Not only do we hurt emotionally with our pain, but we hurt physically as well. The stress that is placed on us, through poor hospital conditions and a broad use of a non- thorough- plan aimed at treating the individual as a whole in order to produce recovery, is something that should be looked at closely in regards to policy.

First, in looking at the members of the treatment team, who provide our care, it is evident to me through my experience, while receiving services as a consumer and witnessing the implementation and behind the scenes talk of my coworkers while working as a peer provider, that the stigmas are far reaching; and, we are often looked at as a thorn-in-the side of the health care system. As a consumer, I have experienced the rude and disconcerting, downgrading talk from mental health techs and nurses, when even a simple question is asked. Doctors will often give you a ten minute window of time when you are describing what you are experiencing; and, when you do ask a question in regards to your care, you often do not receive an answer in a way which is concurrent with the active involvement that you as a consumer should have in your health care plan. I have experienced caseworkers who do not return your phone calls, because they feel that you are nothing but a bother; and I have experienced a social worker who tells you that if it was up to him you would never be released from the hospital. These are a few of the many ways in which we, as consumers of a mental health system, are treated. Many consumers feel that we have no way of giving customer feedback, nor do we feel that our feedback would be considered to be of any meaning to anyone, even if it was received.

If actually investigated, individuals with even the hardest of hearts would break down to tears as they looked at the facilities and the conditions that we must bear as consumers, while attempting to recover from an episode of psychosis, depression, or another label. They would find hospitals with beds that are nothing more than cots with a thin foam pad on which to sleep. They would find a ward that holds upwards to fifty people with nothing more than two short hallways and a small dayroom area. When the opportunity arises to go outside, it consists of nothing more that walking back and forth on a concrete catwalk with bars above and on the sides and only thirty feet of walking space allowable. In some facilities, the shower must be shared with all fifty people on that ward. It is unkempt and unsanitary, most of the time, and consumers often have to use the shower with no hot water and very little soap. With these conditions, consumers have difficulty maintaining a good quality of hygiene.

These are just a few conditions that can be compared to a hospital room shared by two patients, while in a facility treating physical health problems. As for the food, well, I just won’t even go there.

As you can see, the lack of parity is clear and nothing ever seems to be done about it. No quality, unified training for the health professionals exists. I have not seen any upgraded facilities, and there still remains no consumer input into our treatment. This leaves many consumers still far away from the goal of recovery. And, a new rise of consumers have developed who have suffered not only these poor standards of care, but they have also been forced to receive injections, medications, and electroshock treatments ordered by the court. These individuals are now calling themselves “psychiatric survivors.” In my opinion, such treatment takes away the very liberties which the court is supposed to protect.