We need comprehensive mental health coverage, stat

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I've had mental health coverage on the brain ever since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last month. When I first heard about the horrific tragedy, I almost immediately wondered if a mental health issue was involved.

People with mental health issues often are ostracized from our society, which considers the topic too taboo to confront. What's more, almost everyone suffering from mental illness has faced challenges, obstacles and roadblocks in their attempt to receive coverage for their health problem.

I've seen the negative effect our nation's patchwork approach to mental health has had on friends and family. It isn't pretty. Many health plans don't include any mental health coverage at all, while others offer very limited benefits, leading to high out-of-pocket costs for these patients to see appropriate doctors and receive needed medications. 

What if you can't afford the escalating bills to treat your mental health condition? Many patients forgo treatment. Indeed, the National Institute of Mental Health has found that although more than 25 percent of U.S. adults have a diagnosable mental health problem, fewer than 50 percent receive treatment for their issues.

That's an alarmingly high number of people who aren't getting the healthcare they need. And that's what brings us to the topic at hand--we as a nation must demand better coverage of mental health issues in an effort to prevent any more horrific acts of violence.

Before I go any further, I recognize there isn't any confirmed report (that I know of, at least) that the Sandy Hook gunman, Adam Lanza, suffered from a mental illness. Although media outlets have reported that Lanza had different disorders, ranging from social anxiety to Asperger's to schizophrenia, it's all speculation. Many reports have said, though, that Lanza's mother was planning to commit him to a mental institution.

Mental health coverage is essential to ensuring that people with mental illness actually receive vital treatment and services. In fact, White House Spokesman Jay Carney, speaking after the tragedy, said mental health issues are "clearly a factor that needs to be addressed in some of these cases of horrific violence."

If adding benefits for mental health within insurance policies helps even one person suffering from mental illness seek and obtain whatever treatment helps them the most, then I think it's worth the added cost. It's hard enough for people with mental health issues to get past the shame and embarrassment that is so often associated with such diagnoses.

Then they must navigate the spotty and ambiguous maze of health coverage, from limited provider networks and lack of coverage for therapies, medications and other services. It's no wonder many people don't actually receive help.

If there's any good to come out of the heartbreak and devastation rippling throughout the Newtown community and our society at large, I think it's that we can take steps to save other people who are in mental pain. That in and of itself is a lofty goal. If it ultimately prevents another tragedy, then we can't go wrong in demanding more from our insurance companies. - Dina (@HealthPayer)