Mental health care in Wisconsin may be receiving more attention in the upcoming legislative session, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester announced late January.
The Associated Press reported Vos introduced a committee in an earlier session that has carried out assessments of mental health needs in Wisconsin. Vos also recently created a new Assembly committee to instigate mental health care development, which will begin this fall.
Julianne Zweifel, a clinical psychologist in the University of Wisconsin’s Medical Foundation, said social and cultural perceptions deeming mental health problems to be a sign of weakness is one of the factors creating a lack of services for those in need.
“People in Wisconsin have what I would call a very German kind of attitude, which is grit your teeth, put your head down and plow through problems. Don’t get help,” Zweifel said. “This social stigma is the biggest barrier to mental health care in Wisconsin.”
The AP, reported Vos too, is trying to tackle the issue of social stigma through this legislation. Ryan Herringa, UW associate professor of psychiatry, said integrating mental health care into schools and ordinary health care services such as internal medicine could reduce the prevalence of such stigma and help people receive routine care.
He said having a mental health care worker within the medical clinic would both improve access and reduce stigma. He said it would be ideal if people could go to their regular doctors’ offices and get mental health care there too. He said this would reduce the stigma of seeking out mental health care, because it would be seen as more routine, necessary and universal.
Along with providing improved access to mental health care, Vos’ legislation would also aim to create higher quality mental health care facilities in Wisconsin. Zweifel said this could assist people in receiving the right kind of treatment from the right people.
“People are not given an opportunity to seek appropriate care for their mental health problems so they’re likely to try to get that care through other means and that’s not as effective,” Zweifel said.
Herringa said time and money play crucial roles in determining accessibility to mental health care facilities as well and need to be factored into the legislation. Such factors include transportation costs, work hours and the time it takes to complete psychological treatments, Herringa said, all of which can cause people to stop seeking treatment. He said these issues tend to hit low-income individuals the hardest.
“Even if you are able to get into a clinic, there is often a long wait time and when people are struggling with severe depression or suicidal thoughts or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder they need treatment as quickly as possible,” Herringa said.
Zweifel said social stigma about mental health is strongly prevalent in Wisconsin and this legislation could assist in changing the public’s perspective on mental health issues by simply emphasizing this point.
“Mental health problems are just as substantial and in need of treatment as medical problems,” Zweifel said.