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New research center finds Americans want more treatment options

February 17, 2015
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy and David Satcher, former Surgeon General, announced the launch of the Kennedy Center for Mental Health Policy and Research, which will be housed within the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. The kick-off included a panel discussion with Kennedy and Satcher and the release of a national survey.

Americans believe there are not enough adequate treatment options available today, according to the survey, which was conducted in January and polled 800 people. They would like to see increased funding for mental health and increased numbers of facilities able to handle mental health patients to ensure greater access.  In addition, they also suggest expanding education for all types of healthcare professionals to foster more accurate and earlier diagnoses.

Also according to the survey, Republicans (64 percent), Independents (71 percent), and Democrats (76 percent) are in agreement about the need for “radical” or “significant” change to the way the country is handling mental health conditions today. Overall, 28 percent of respondents call for radical change and 43 percent call for significant change.

“The big challenge is getting the message across that there are real treatments and they do work for those suffering from mental illness an substance use disorders,” said Kennedy at the panel discussion.

And the mental health parity law is the vehicle for communicating that message, he said.

Survey results reveal that more than seven in 10 Americans believe that physical health is treated with greater importance than mental health, and the majority (66 percent) either don’t know that parity is law or mistakenly believe that parity is not required.

For the future, Kennedy believes that telemedicine will become one of the useful tools in combating the growing shortage of providers.

“Technology can help leverage those that are currently out there so that we can reach more people,” he said. “But also, cognitive behavioral therapy is a therapy that’s effective, and we need to get it out there, which can even be done with new platforms like gaming.”

As policymakers examine precision medicine—an emerging White House initiative—Kennedy says the medical field must increasingly focus on the precision that is required for brain-related conditions such as mental health and addiction. He believes nothing requires more precision than the complex workings of the brain.

“There are several pieces of major legislation that are being proposed on the Hill to address the crisis in mental health in this country, and we need to give all of them the attention that they deserve. But we also need to articulate the big picture,” he said.