Mental Health Care: 'Incipient Disaster'. (Public Policy Fails)

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA -- The nation's mental health system rests on the brink of "an incipient disaster" in which patients of nearly every economic station are denied care because of disastrous public policy decisions, American Psychiatric Association President Paul Appelbaum told the group's annual meeting.

"The moral obligation of a just society to provide for the needs of the less fortunate, as we would want their needs met in their places, teeters on a precipice," Dr. Appelbaum said in his inaugural address as the incoming president of the organization.

"Wishing that mental illness would not exist has led our policy makers to shape a health care system as if it did not exist."

While the most pressing danger facing America's mentally ill is with people who reside in the world of public assistance, even those who have otherwise good private insurance or Medicare are finding they are out of luck when trying to obtain adequate psychiatric care, Dr. Appelbaum commented.

"The situation for people who have private insurance or Medicare is at least as bad, and in some respects, worse," he said.

Armed with a litany of statistics to back up his claim that public policy is failing both the indigent mentally ill and those who have health coverage, Dr. Appelbaum called for swift and dramatic action on the part of psychiatrists to force changes in a system he said was broken and battered. Among Dr. Appelbaum's rallying points:

* Psychiatrists must "sound the alarm" everywhere from the halls of Congress to their neighborhood barbecues to ensure that the media, politicians, and the public at large understand the crisis facing the mental health care system. …