Invisible Realities: Fighting for Mental Health Care

July 13, 2017Bailey Roos

When my younger brother was about 11, he decided he did not believe in God. My mother, being the supportive, inquisitive person that she is said, “Okay, that is fine, but out of curiosity, why don’t you?”

Jacob responded, in the plainest terms, “I cannot see God and you can’t prove that He exists.”

While it is certainly shocking for an 11-year-old to make such a profound statement about his philosophical view of the world, what is not surprising is his reasoning. Many people share his skepticism of intangible, often inscrutable topics. Mental illness is one of those invisible realities; it's often dismissed as an illegitimate disability simply because it can’t be bandaged up or seen on an X-ray.

Ruby Wax asks it best in her TED Talk “What’s so funny about mental illness?”: “How come when people have mental damage, it’s always an active imagination? How come every other organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy, except for the brain?”

Perhaps what is most devastating about our stigmatization of mental illness is the number of people it affects: One in five adults experiences mental illness in a given year. Statistics have shown that half of these illnesses will appear by age 14, but they may not be treated for decades after the symptoms first appear.

Through its expansion of health insurance to more than 24 million people since 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helped make mental healthcare accessible, affordable and a public matter. In the case of one woman from Kentucky, who had several pre-existing mental illnesses and behavioral health issues, as well as a history of addiction, ACA made medication affordable that was otherwise $500+ without insurance.

Unfortunately, the newest piece of legislation regarding health care, the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. When it comes to mental health in America, the new bill, if made into law, would effectively stop funding for able-bodied, low-income people and implement block grants to restrict per-capita funding per state. The AHCA would penalize those living with invisible illnesses and create barriers to mental health care for those who remained eligible. As of May 4, the proposed bill has already passed in the House of Representatives; the Senate introduced a bill, but it has not yet been voted on.

The AHCA is only one-third of the way through the legislative process, so there's still time to make our voices heard. Tell your Members of Congress the importance of maintaining affordable, high-quality care. Tell them that granting the insurance providers the ability to charge patients with pre-existing conditions more is not acceptable. Tell them that undoing ACA would jeopardize the coverage of ten types of procedural and medical services. Let your voice be heard, and contact your Members of Congress.

As a young Jewish woman, one of the reasons I am so impassioned by this cause is because of the Jewish prayer for healing, the Mi Shebeirach. It is a prayer for physical wellbeing, as well as compassion, strength, and restoration for those facing illness, for all Jews, and for all human beings. For those of you that are hurting, in whatever way that may be, know that while you cannot see our prayers, they are there and they are every bit as real.

Check out this list of five easy ways to take action to protect health care, and visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for additional information.

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