Looming Mental Health Crisis?

Growing up I always had a tremendous admiration for the field of psychiatry. I really didn't know why, but I was always impressed by the way people with deep emotional confusions could have a breakthrough during a therapy session. In particular, I remember a Broadway play by the name of "Equss." The play dealt with the struggle between a disturbed young man and the complex relationship that developed between the therapist and the patient. For those of you too young to remember, perhaps Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi (Tony's therapist) ring a bell. But that's Hollywood.

It is more and more difficult to find real-life examples where individuals today feel that they have access to healthcare professionals that treat mental illnesses / issues / problems / set backs — whatever you want to call them. It seems that terrorism, drugs, crime, technology, etc. make our lives are more stressful today than when our parents were growing up. But stress has always been a part of many generations, and our parents and grandparents would agree. Economic depression, WWII, the communist threat, the sixties... wait, not the 60's! I REALLY enjoyed that decade. But as you can see, there have always been factors that to some have "enhanced" their emotional distress. Yet in the past people had affordable, available mental health services at their disposal. NOT TODAY.

To many of us, the lack of adequate mental healthcare services seems to be approaching critical levels, and we must make this a national priority. Over the last few decades, many psychiatric hospitals have closed their doors for lack of funding. Teaching hospitals with strong psychiatric departments are placing less resources, delegating many of the services they provided to the emergency room. Imagine trying to discuss your emotional symptoms next to a patient with a gunshot wound.

But who is to blame? Is there enough blame to go around? You bet. First, follow the money. To some insurance companies mental health has never been a priority; either by not covering those services or by paying very small fees to the health professionals.

Second, fewer doctors are choosing the field of psychiatry. Let's face it, there are other medical specialties that get more publicity and pay better. One example is plastic surgery. I would say that there are some plastic surgeons that would argue that a NIP and a TUCK here and there would do wonders for your mental health.

And finally, the famous PROZAC revolution where talking about mental health is taboo but popping a pill is quite the catch.

So, don't be afraid of going to a therapist or a psychologist. It's a healthy thing to do, it's the right thing to do, and I don't care what Tom Cruise says. He's not qualified to tell you and me what we should do. Doctors don't go around telling actors how to do their jobs, and they certainly should stay away from telling us how to do ours. After all, we ARE responsible for people's well being...and sometimes, life and death.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.