In an episode of The Knick, a television show loosely based on medical practices of the early 1900’s, a woman is brought to an insane asylum to treat her unusual behavior. The doctor’s remedy: to extract the patient’s teeth, due to the popular thought (at that time) that mental illness resides in teeth. In the same episode, another character courageously seeks care for his cocaine addiction. The treatment: heroin. Sure, the show takes creative liberties, but these practices actually occurred!
Today’s mental health system is a far cry from the one depicted in The Knick. It’s now managed by an advanced mix of physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, health insurance companies, government and countless other stakeholders. Research and technology has propelled medicine to heights never imagined by the mental health experts of previous eras. So why is Arizona’s mental health system ranked so poorly? Why is mental health such a hot-button subject?
Part of the answer may lie in our ability (or inability) to have a direct conversation about the subject. The complicated relationship between mental illness and subjects like gun violence and criminal justice often spirals the conversation in multiple directions. It’s not uncommon to read or watch stories that highlight and/or criticize this interplay.
Another part of the answer may lie in the relative youth of our mental health system compared to the maturity of our medical system. The physical healthcare system has a long history of technological, intellectual and political advances, while the basic structure of the U.S. mental health system is still being debated by policy makers in Arizona and nationally. In an ideal world, these systems would have grown in unison. In reality, mental health is playing catch-up. Fortunately, promising practices and practical solutions do exist, and are highlighted in a recent report by the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.
Do you find it difficult to have a conversation with your peers about mental health? What do you think are the most important things we need to do to improve our mental health system? Improving Arizona’s mental health system is an important step toward Making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation. We’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go, but we’re gaining ground. The road ahead may be difficult, but at least it’s not like pulling teeth…anymore.