Mental health parity refers to the equal treatment of mental health conditions and substance use disorders in insurance plans and healthcare services. When a plan has parity, it means that if you are provided unlimited doctor visits for a chronic condition like diabetes then you must also be offered unlimited visits for a mental health condition such as depression or schizophrenia. Guyana needs mental health parity legislation for many reasons.
With Government moving towards an integrated healthcare system that places mental health care on par with physical healthcare, parity would ensure that all healthcare institutions must not only have medical personnel trained to diagnose mental health issues, but also to follow up with requisite treatment. In effect, mental health care must be as normal as care for physical illnesses and must, therefore, include the presence of clinical counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, traumatists and other mental health experts at all healthcare institutions.
Of course, the process of parity must begin with an updated and expanded mental health act that takes into consideration all developments in mental health care since the 1930s when the current act was legislated. As well, current mental health-related laws must be revised to update and maximise provisions for mental health care. And the National Insurance Scheme, as well as any private insurance schemes that exist, must cover mental health care in the same manner that they cover physical healthcare.
A 2018 Lancet Commission report on mental health stated that mental disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030. The economic cost is primarily due to the early onset of mental illness and lost productivity, with an estimated 12 billion working days lost due to mental illness every year. Then there are healthcare costs, crime costs, welfare costs, social costs, the costs to families and the added burden to both cost and standards of living.
On the other hand, if mentally ill people receive treatment so that they have the same employment rate as the rest of the population, total employment would be 4 per cent higher, adding significantly to national output. As well, psychological treatment can reduce a person’s annual physical healthcare costs by 20 per cent. Consider other savings relating to crime, social life, welfare, families and it becomes certain that mental health parity would make a significant positive difference overall.
As young people face the brunt of the global burden of mental illnesses, the Lancet report places great emphasis on experiences in childhood and adolescence, which shape life-long mental health. Lancet report co-author Dr Janice Cooper, stated, “…we need to begin with young people and train teachers to identify and refer students for help”.
Thus, as political parties gear up for elections The Caribbean Voice and other mental health activists and advocates look forward to hearing about plans to ensure mental health parity as a priority, given that more than 200,000 Guyanese or 25 per cent of the population is suffering from some form of mental illness (Dr Jorge Balserio, Bhiro Harry et al). With economic growth expected to increase from 4.4 per cent in 2019 to 86 per cent in 2020, surely mental health care should also reflect a corresponding level of growth. After all, it would take the totality of Guyanese with absolute wellbeing to effectively manage and man such an economy. And when mental health care lags behind, it acts as a drag on all other sectors of the economy and quality of life.
The Caribbean Voice