COMMENTARY: Nevadans must avail themselves of mental health services

Many of us have recently been made aware that suicide rates are rising sharply across the country. With news of recent celebrity suicides, mental health is now on the forefront for families and health care providers — as it should be.

Our mental well-being affects how we think, feel and act. Both mental and physical health are equally important components of our overall health, and that’s why health insurance providers need to continue the equal treatment of mental health conditions in insurance plans, valuing mental health as they would all other health conditions.

Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in America. One in five Nevadans is affected by mental illness in a given year, and one in 25 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.

Suicide rates have gone up more than 30 percent in half the states since 1999. We lost nearly 45,000 lives to suicide in 2016 alone.

Too often, however, mental health is treated as a taboo subject — and stigma only worsens the problem. In Nevada, however, we have managed to make progress. We were one of the only states that experienced a decrease in suicides from 1996 to 2016. Those numbers increased in the most recent survey. Nevada now has the fifth-highest rate of suicide in the country.

It’s an issue that we must continue to address. The No. 1 reason children are admitted to hospitals is for depression or bipolar disorder. In Nevada, 12 percent of our children experienced an MDE — major depressive episode — last year.

First and foremost, more of us need to take a much more active role in availing ourselves of mental health services. Former congressman and mental health advocate Patrick Kennedy says people should get a “checkup from the neck up.” Health insurance currently covers us from the neck up. Those of us with insurance should use what we are paying for.

Thankfully, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the establishment of health insurance exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid in our state means that more people than ever can get coverage. The coverage includes access to mental and behavioral health services. When Nevada expanded Medicaid in 2014, even more Nevadans gained access to vital mental health services.

It’s important Nevadans know there are resources available to them through their health plans, and that anyone seeking care should check with his/her insurance plans and doctors. Ask your provider for clear information on their websites and information line to help you navigate the options available.

Moreover, new innovations, such as telehealth, are helping ensure that people can connect to the mental and behavioral health care they need — all from their smartphone. These technologies are helping patients overcome barriers to care such as distance, mobility and time constraints. Efforts are being made to increase licensed care providers, but for every 580 people living in Nevada, there is only one mental health provider.

For individuals who struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues, health insurance providers can offer valuable support. People in your community are available as well. If you or someone you know needs help, don’t wait. Contact your doctor, your insurance provider or call 211 for more information.

It shouldn’t take the passing of high-profile figures or people we admire or love to remind us to get the care we need. More than 67 percent of adults and children with mental health conditions received no mental health treatment in our state this past year.

It is important that people know what care is available. It is important to know that there are groups out there advocating for increased behavioral health services.

Robin Reedy is the executive director of NAMI Nevada.

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