Today, it’s expected that you visit your doctor regularly to get a physical checkup. You’ll get some bloodwork done that will give your doctor insight into lifestyle changes you might need to make. You might set a new weight goal, or even tell your doctor about that weird pain in your back. The point is, no matter the details, you visit the GP or specialist with the goal of getting, or remaining, healthy.
So why don’t we hoist the same expectations on our mental health?
It can’t be because of visibility. After all, a disease that attacks our bodies is invisible. When we feel something even slightly off, we don’t hesitate to go to the doctor. Granted, there are some ailments that can have an effect on our physical appearance. But internalized illness is real and we accept it as such— friends, family, and employers wouldn’t fault you for missing something because you weren’t feeling up to snuff. But when something is off in our minds? We may get a response to encourage us to press on— after all, “it’s all in your head.”
Strangely enough, “it’s all in your head” isn’t a falsehood. But just because it’s in your head doesn’t make it any less real. Forbes contributor Kenneth L. Davis recently took our societal habit to task in an article where he explores the great divide between physical healthcare and mental health care. His conclusion? Mental health is considered an “auxiliary” to physical well-being, and this reflects in how both are treated by insurance companies. The ramifications of the divide are vast, on both an individual and societal level. Patients suffering from mental health issues often need long-term treatment in order to keep their physical bodies in the best possible shape. And as a society, we spend a lot of tax dollars on institutions and programs that support the mentally ill without providing any lasting treatment for them. It’s a vicious cycle that’s letting hundreds of thousands of people down.
These issues are further compounded when you look at the how varied mental health care is in many parts of the country. A schizophrenic patient who lives in rural Maine shared her story with Vice, and the situation typifies just how different life can be in a rural versus urban areas. An underwhelming minority of doctors that can treat mental illness decide to work in rural areas. Because the countryside is usually geographically isolated, the closest mental health facilities are often hours away. On top of that, research shows that rural populations have higher rates of mental illness than their urban cousins. It turns out that people who need accessible mental health care the most, often have the hardest time getting it.