News Article Details

Commentary: Access to mental health care lagging in state

The Daily Herald - 5/6/2018

By Megan Amaya

Politics is truly personal — it took going through a mental health challenge for me to realize I needed to raise my voice in order to support change in Washington state.

Washington is ranked 34th in the nation in access to community mental health care, according to Mental Health America . My own experience helped me understand that our mental health system is fragmented and crisis-driven, and it doesn't receive needed resources.

My journey to this realization began about three years ago. After an intense period in my life, I started having trouble sleeping. A doctor prescribed sleeping pills but they did no good.

Other doctors thought I was anxious and depressed. Initially, I was afraid I'd have a bad reaction to medications and didn't take them. But after I lost 30 pounds and my hair started to fall out, I finally gave one a try.

The first night I took one, I slipped into a psychotic state and convinced myself that I should take my own life.

In the morning my husband immediately checked me into a psychiatric hospital, one of many I would eventually spend time in.

There seemed no way out of the mess. When I was taking the medications I had been prescribed, they triggered me to drink heavily and abuse drugs. My behavior was really out of character during these episodes of mania and caused me to separate from my husband. The bills from my inpatient visits nearly bankrupted us. The money for a down payment on a house was gone.

I've been able to slowly climb out of this personal hell. A psychiatric nurse practitioner diagnosed me as bipolar. She also was able to prescribe medications best suited to my genetic makeup by reviewing my DNA through Genecept Assay results. This gave me satisfaction knowing I was indeed on medications that could help me get better, faster. It also confirmed my suspicions that previous pharmaceuticals hadn't been the right fit for me. I pray that every patient will someday receive such treatment, regardless of his or her ability to pay.

Today, I'm in a better place and getting stronger all the time.

I'm now using this strength to advocate with the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Our two state psychiatric hospitals need millions of dollars in additional funding to ensure their operations are safe and operating correctly. We believe more attention is needed to fully integrate physical health care and behavioral health care services for Medicaid patients in time for a 2020 deadline.

The Legislature also must devote more funding to the Department of Children, Youth and Families so young people receive treatment when they are in detention facilities.

According to the Genomind mental health poll, 60 percent of respondents think that we should be spending more on mental health treatment. Baby boomers and people who know someone with a mental illness are most likely to think we should spend more.

I'm proud that I can now look in the mirror and understand how my genetic makeup affects my mental health and treatment. It's time for our lawmakers in Olympia to also have an honest look in the mirror. We need more better mental health support in Washington. They can make it happen.

Megan Amaya is a volunteer advocate with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Washington. She lives in Lynnwood.


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