How Access to Mental Health Services Can Help Avert Tragedy

Several tragedies–such as last year’s shootings in Newtown, CT, and Aurora, CO–have ignited debate over the status of mental illness services in the US. This controversy highlights some of the many failures of the current system, including the struggle to access timely, appropriate and affordable care as well as the continued stigma surroundingbehavioral health diagnoses and treatment. The federal government has responded with plans to increase allocation of much-needed resources toward delivering these services.

Early intervention programs like The Zucker Hillside’s Early Treatment Program are paramount to improving the delivery of mental health services. Despite decades of research demonstrating the critical role of early detection and treatment, only a handful of such programs exist in the United States.

The Way Forward

Initiatives like the Early Treatment Program give hope and optimism to psychiatric patients and providers alike. These programs break away from traditional clinical settings; create safe, innovative and inviting space for young people; and work to tear down myths and misconceptions about mental illness. They also offer evidence-based interventions known to have exponential, positive effects on young people struggling with emerging symptoms.

To reform and improve mental health care delivery in the United States, we must remove the many barriers to accessing appropriate and timely care. Our mental health system must be available and equipped to work with struggling youth and their families. We must continue to fight to destigmatize mental illness and support an environment that encourages struggling youth and their family members to express concern, ask questions and get the help they need before waiting for tragedy to strike.

This post was written by Michael Birnbaum, MD, director of the early treatment program at the Zucker Hillside Hospital.

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