SSerious mental illnesses are the second leading cause of disability in the United States. Colorado ranks last when it comes to need for care versus access to care for adults.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of mental illnesses has increase 25%, globally, leading to an unprecedented mental health crisis. However, only about 30% of people with mental illness are willing to seek treatment themselves. On top of that, 9 out of 10 people who do not seek professional help are members of minority groups. This kind of disparity should not exist. Now is the time for our healthcare system to revolutionize the approach we take to treating mental illness, modernize the way we think about mental health, and encourage the innovation of new treatments and their national accessibility. .
Mental and behavioral health issues have been a challenge in Colorado, and the pandemic has made it even harder for people of color to find the treatments and services they need. Statistically, more than half of ethnic minority Coloradans affected by mental illness do not seek medical treatment for themselves. Part of the challenge has included problems with scheduling appointments, lack of insurance coverage, and very limited availability of psychiatrists and psychologists. We need brain health care that is affordable and accessible to everyone, regardless of background.
As a leader of the African American business community, it is more apparent to me than ever that historically disadvantaged communities need our voice. We must ensure that all Coloradans have equal and affordable mental health care for themselves and their families. Additionally, we need to advance our work to educate our communities about the various free resources available to help them meet their brain health needs.
We need to streamline the way we treat major depressive disorder, encourage innovative solutions that improve the lives of patients with serious mental illnesses, and ensure patients have access to the treatments they need. Reinventing the way we treat major depression is essential, and that starts with creating an environment for innovative solutions. Patients with mental illness deserve to have all the options on the table and the freedom to pursue treatment pathways unique to their own circumstances.
Transforming our health care system and modernizing the way we think about mental illness would make it easier to talk about brain health. This would help make brain health resources more affordable and accessible. Significant reforms would also encourage more people to seek treatment, rather than leaving patients discouraged by preventive actions or in situations in which they downplay their mental health needs.
The stigma surrounding mental health has been around for a long time, keeping people away from treatment when they need it most. But why is the processing of the brain considered any different than any other human organ? Why is the conversation surrounding brain health and the abundance of treatment options less desirable?
The brain is the most important part of our body and we have failed to recognize and treat it as such. As a result, our nation’s mental illness treatment systems have stagnated for more than 60 years. The brain is an organ, and new therapeutic treatments must be at the forefront of solving our crisis surrounding mental health. Prioritizing brain health is essential and urgent.
Maya Wheeler is currently the Executive Director of the Colorado African Chamber of Commerce. The African Chamber of Commerce is the premier platform and trusted voice connecting the greater Colorado region to the African continent for business development aimed at creating growth and investment by empowering Colorado’s African business community.