In the Spotlight: The Renewed Discussion of Mental Health in the U.S.

| April 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

Counseling Session - Empathy

Newtown, Chris Dorner, Aurora—all of these names and places have made massive headlines in the past year regarding public gun violence and, with that, implications of mental health problems. These high-profile tragedies led Americans nationwide to reconsider where the fault for these major breaches in public safety lies. Many fingers were pointed at the nation’s mental health system for failing to adequately help and provide support for the mentally unstable. The recent massacres have reopened doors to discussion of how to improve the American mental health system, as President Obama has promised to fix the system’s shortcomings.

There are several crucial components of a strong mental health care system: outreach programs, access to diverse services, and collaboration between services.  As it is unrealistic to assume that people with mental health problems will reach out for help on their own, perhaps due to a lack of knowledge of or access to resources, outreach programs that identify and engage these individuals must be developed. Also, the high cost of mental health care in the U.S. and the attitudes regarding mental health problems deter many from getting care; many people struggling with mental problems think they can overcome the issue themselves without help. Thus, increased outreach targeting high-risk populations is necessary for the mental health care system to succeed, and more emphasize within the system must be placed on community programs and personnel. In addition, it is important to increase access to diverse health care services by creating a multidisciplinary approach that combines health care to include both physical and psychological examination rather than keeping them as separated systems of care. Sharing information about patients is the first step in coordinating different health care services; otherwise, the system of care will be fragmented and even more difficult to navigate than it currently is.[1]

Though the U.S. spends around $113 billion on mental health care annually, much of that money goes towards prescription drugs, taking away spending on areas such as inpatient care or community outreach.[2] Relying on drugs to fix the mental health problem in the U.S. is not a sustainable or effective solution. In comparison, many countries spend less money and possess more efficient mental health care systems than the U.S. For example, in the Asia-Pacific region, a number of countries—such as Korea, Japan, and Malaysia—spend less than the U.S. yet have increased their efficiency in reaching out to target populations by shifting the focus of their mental health care systems from institutionalized care to community mental health services. One such model of this shift to community programs is the Kyonggi Provincial Mental Health Program in Korea, which created community mental health centers that provide services such as child day care, community education, case management, and family support. Another example of community outreach is the Community Mental Health Nursing project in Indonesia, which increases access to mental health resources and education in rural areas through a mobile clinic of medical specialists.[3] The U.S. could learn from these mental health outreach programs and shift more spending and efforts on establishing strong community-based mental health care.

Due to the recent string of public violence that has been highlighted in the media, mental health is once again enjoying the spotlight of discussion in U.S. policy. In order to create a more effective system of care, the U.S. must focus on community outreach programs that provide mental health care and education. With President Obama’s recent pledge to improve American mental health care, the U.S. must continue taking the appropriate steps to build a strong mental health support system for its citizens.




1.) Priebe et al. 2012. Good practice in mental health care for socially marginalized groups in Europe: a qualitative study of expert views in 14 countries. BMC Public Health, 12:248. <>.

2.) Sarah, Kliff. “Seven facts about America’s mental health-care system.” Washington Post. Dec. 17, 2012. Web. <>.

3.) Ng, C., Herrman, H., Chiu, E., and Singh, B. 2009. Community mental health care in the Asia-Pacific region: using current best-practice models to inform future policy. World Psychiatry, 8(1):49-55. <>.


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