Serious mental illness is the second leading cause of disability in the United States. Colorado ranks last when it comes to need for care compared to access to care for adults.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental illness prevalence has increased by 25%, worldwide, leading to an unprecedented mental health crisis. However, only about 30% of those with mental illnesses are willing to seek medical treatment for themselves. On top of that, nine out of 10 of those who don’t seek professional help are members of minority groups. These kinds of disparities should not exist. Now is the time for our healthcare system to revolutionize the approach we take to treat mental illness, modernize the way we look at mental health, and encourage innovation of new treatments and their accessibility nationwide.
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 require. 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 issues with appointment scheduling, a lack of insurance coverage, and greatly limited availability of psychiatrists and psychologists. We need brain healthcare that is affordable and accessible for everyone, regardless of their background.
As a leader in the African American business community, it is obvious to me now more than ever that historically disadvantaged communities need our voice. We need to ensure that all Coloradans have equal and affordable mental healthcare for themselves and their families. Further, we must advance our work to educate our communities on the various resources freely available to help them through their brain health needs.
We must streamline the way we treat major depressive disorders, encourage innovative solutions that improve the lives of patients with serious mental illness, and ensure patients have access to the treatments they require. Reimagining how we treat major depression is critical, and it starts with establishing a conducive environment for innovation solutions. Patients suffering from mental illness deserve to have all options on the table and have the freedom to pursue treatment paths that are unique to their own circumstances.
Transforming our healthcare system and modernizing the way we look at mental illness would make it easier to have a discussion around brain health. It would help to make brain health resources more affordable and more accessible. Significant reforms would also encourage more people to seek treatment, rather than leaving patients discouraged about preventative actions or in situations in which they downplay their mental health needs.
The stigma surrounding mental health has long existed, pushing people away from treatment when they need it the most. But why is treatment of the brain looked at any differently than any other human organ? Why is the conversation surrounding the health of the brain and the abundance of treatment options less desirable?
The brain is the most important part of our body and we have failed to acknowledge and treat it as such. As a result, our nation’s mental illness treatment systems have stagnated for over 60 years. The brain is an organ, and novel therapeutic treatments must be at the forefront of resolving our crisis surrounding mental health. Prioritizing brain health is essential and urgent.
Maya Wheeler currently serves as the Executive Director of the African Chamber of Commerce in Colorado. The African Chamber of Commerce is the premier platform and trusted voice connecting the greater Colorado region with the African continent for business development aimed to create growth and investment by empowering the African Business community of Colorado.