New York may have recently made a breakthrough in the treatment of substance abuse and mental illness. The Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services and the Office of Mental Health are working together for the first time in order to effectively treat the 1.4 million people in New York that are afflicted with both substance abuse and mental illness.
Correlation between substance abuse and mental illness
The problem is not a new one. Millions of people suffer from both of these diseases, and in many cases one disorder may make the symptoms of the other one worse. Time and again it is difficult, or impossible, for a patient to get treatment for both, as substance abuse facilities and physicians are usually separate from mental illness facilities.
It may start out as depression that a person suffers throughout their life. Sometimes it becomes too much to handle, and the person turns to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and to numb the mental and emotional pain. But this causes its own set of problems by adding addiction and more depression and mental instability. This turns into a vicious cycle that needs to be treated in its entirety to be successful.
Or it may be that a person with mental illness is more vulnerable to the effects of substance abuse. The drugs or alcohol can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses that might otherwise be under control.
It is estimated that 50% of those suffering with severe mental illness also have a substance use disorder. It’s too bad that too often these people haven’t been able to get the help and treatment that would be the most successful for their situation.
The problem is that many health care facilities either specialize in mental illness, or they specialize in substance abuse. Usually, Medicaid will only pay for treatment in one type of facility. If you are already being treated for substance abuse, you would not have benefits to be seen at a mental illness treatment facility.
Even if the treatment would be covered under insurance or Medicaid, many facilities are not equipped to treat both illnesses. Different training, different techniques, and conflicting views all add a barrier to effective cooperation. Add to that the difficulty in getting an addict to even step foot in a treatment facility, and it is an even bigger task to get them to visit two doctors for help with two “separate” problems.
New York’s solution
New York is working to revamp services in all of its licensed outpatient mental illness and substance abuse treatment centers. A grant of $3.2 million from the National Development and Research Institutes Inc. will aid in this. Health care workers in both fields will receive integrated training in order to be effective in treating both mental illness and substance abuse.
As time goes by, we tend to see things differently. Maybe years from now we will take dual treatment for granted, and wonder why it took so long to come up with cooperation between health care professionals like the ones New York is working on.