It’s not news that mental health services can be hard to access, but the pandemic spotlighted the challenges.
According to the World Health Organization, rates of anxiety and depression have increased worldwide by 25% since the pandemic began. Youth and seniors are especially vulnerable.
Like so many, my own family felt the effects of the quarantine’s isolation on our mental health. I needed to get help for my family, and even though I had learned to navigate other complicated systems with ease, I felt outmatched by the mental health system.
Thankfully, my family has received the help that we need. But I kept thinking about how challenging it must be for other people who aren’t pathfinders and don’t know where to go to get help.
Right now, the system is broken. There are two key factors.
First, health insurance coverage of mental health services is inconsistent. Federal and state law actually do require that insurance companies provide equivalent coverage for mental health care, yet the law has been difficult to enforce. The state needs new tools to ensure that patients are not denied coverage for mental health treatment.
Insurance companies also do not adequately reimburse mental health providers, yet they require a multistep process to qualify for reimbursements. Many private practices choose not to accept insurance coverage since the administrative burden is much greater than the payment received, which puts these services out of reach for so many residents in Massachusetts.
Health insurance companies have profited well and need to do a better job ensuring coverage for these vital services. We must treat therapy and other mental health services as a right, not a luxury.
Secondly, more clinicians are leaving the field than are currently being hired in Massachusetts. We need a significant investment in the mental health service provider pipeline from the state to stabilize our workforce.
Providers are required to have advanced degrees, which means that many also have significant student loan debt. Then, graduates must accrue more than 3,000 hours of supervised post-master’s work – yet these hours cannot be billed to most insurance providers.
The state must invest in a tuition forgiveness program for mental health clinicians. We must also ensure that all supervised, post-master’s clinicians can bill insurance for services, similar to other medical professionals in training. This will reduce patients’ wait time to see a clinician, and it will increase salaries at this critical early-career stage, which will support retention among providers.
I believe that all families should have the opportunity to thrive, and access to mental health services is one essential piece of that vision.
That’s why I’m running to represent the 16th Middlesex District in the Massachusetts Legislature. Our purpose is progress, and government should remove obstacles that get in the way. We can act immediately to improve access to mental health in our communities.
Zoe Dzineku is a candidate for state representative for the 16th Middlesex District, which includes Centralville and Pawtucketville in Lowell and North Chelmsford and the Westlands in Chelmsford.