Iowa is among six states where a national mental health advocacy group is launching what it calls the campaign for the mind of America. Psychologist Richard Birkel, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, says Iowa’s among the few states remaining where a person’s mental and physical health are -not- equal in terms of insurance coverage.Dr. Birkel says the Alliance wants to increase access to mental health treatment services in Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts and West Virginia. He says Iowa is behind the times and the campaign emphasizes the need to dramatically improve access to treatment particularly among youth and young adults. In one Iowa state penitentiary, Birkel says there are only three psychiatrists on staff for more than eight-thousand prisoners. He says 17-percent of the people in Iowa’s jails right now have mental disorders and should be getting treatment. He says the same is true for one in four Iowa emergency room patients. Birkel says “Iowa is one of the states, a minority now…that does not have a state law that requires parity, that is treating mental disorders in the same way as physical disorders as far as health insurance is concerned.” He says the campaign will employ the use of Iowa business leaders, law officers, health care workers and educators.He says untreated mental illness effects everyone. “It keeps teachers from teaching, demands inappropriate time and attention from law enforcement, costs business in lost productivity and increases health care costs.” Birkel says the campaign emphasizes the positive outcomes associated with early diagnosis and treatment. He adds, improved access to mental health services improves a community’s overall health, education, business and public safety while restricted access hurts these same sectors.
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