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EDITORIAL: Emphasis on mental health treatment

The Citizens' Voice - 3/23/2018

March 23--Broad public discussions of mental health tend to occur only in the wake of tragedies -- a mass shooting, a standoff with police, a public suicide. Even the burgeoning and increasingly deadly national opioid addiction epidemic rarely is debated, as a policy issue, in terms of mental health.

Yet the multiple, overlapping failures of mental health policy are a constant, pervasive problem affecting every aspect of the society in every part of the nation, from law enforcement to labor economics.

Jails, in effect, have become the go-to treatment option for serious mental illnesses. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that in state prisons, 73 percent of women and 55 of men have at least one serious mental health problem. In federal prisons, that applies to 61 percent of women and 44 percent of men and, in local prisons, it describes 75 percent of women and 63 percent of men.

All of that, and more, points to the wisdom of the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine's Behavioral Health Initiative, a rare emphasis on mental health as an aspect of overall health, medical education, community awareness and public policy.

GCMC recently hired Dr. Leighton Y. Huey as a professor of psychiatry and associate dean for behavioral health integration and community care transformation. The idea is to recognize mental and physical health as being aspects of the whole person, rather than separate matters, within the health care industry itself, the government and the community.

Huey has begun to work with Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse, a former prosecutor who deserves great credit for pioneering drug courts that recognize drug addiction as a social and public health problem rather than as a criminal justice matter alone.

In advancing psychiatric education and otherwise emphasizing mental health, the school and its partners, including the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education, have taken on one of the most pressing, yet unrecognized needs in all of American health care.


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