Jim McDonough

Jim McDonough

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Jim McDonough is the Chief Executive Officer for The Headstrong Project.

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With May comes an emerging sense of hope for the nation as it continues to unwind from the depths of its COVID despair, tragedy, and sense of loss. May also brings Mental Health Awareness Month, a time for those of us within the treatment sector to advocate for improved treatment offerings and a bit of reflection on what the last fourteen months has revealed about our ability to deliver care and treatment to individuals dealing with life’s individual shadows and challenges associated with wellbeing.

Last month I had the opportunity to join progressive members of the New York State Legislature as they introduced a constitutional amendment to the New York State Constitution calling for mental health parity alongside its better-equipped cousin, physical health. You may be surprised to learn that New York’s Constitution (like a lot of other states) is silent on the issue of mental health, while spelling out the necessity for public concern for the physical health of its citizens – I know I was, but should I have been?

Probably not, for I uniquely sit in the middle of an innovative mental health treatment practice that specializes in breaking down the disparities associated with the delivery of mental health care in America today. Those disparities are very real, just ask anyone who has gone in search of help these days to deal with their problems. I even spent one day this week trying to get a non-veteran friend help for her anxiety, only to realize my individual attempts to hunt-and-peck for a reputable therapist for her reflects a pattern repeated countless times in our nation today, by literally millions of individuals daily.

Just the task of lining up her insurance, checking for therapist availability, and accounting for COVID precautions while valuing her individual preferences seemed like something akin to building a campaign plan for the invasion of Iraq – and I know what that looked like, I was there. How can any system that is supposed to treat you in your time of need be so difficult to navigate at the very moment of need for so many?

The answer lies in how we view mental health care in this country, like it is some sort of resource that remains inaccessible to all but the elites in our nation, the folks who have figured out the gauntlet of challenges way ahead of the rest of us. For the balance of America, including our veteran families, run-of-the-mill care, like the kind we get from our primary care physicians in modern, state-of-the-art medical complexes, looks far different than  the stairs people climb in an old house where their therapist practices and where you hand them $20 for your weekly co-pay for your visit. In contrast to primary care and its connectedness to specialists, mental health treatment remains one street over, in an old house, on a second floor, lacking connectedness to anything seemingly. It is just you, Google, a set of old stairs, and cash.

What I have  learned in my first year here at Headstrong is that it does not have to be that way. That if you take the time to design a system of care that values cost-free, bureaucracy-free, and stigma-free approaches you can deliver integrated, highly individualized, and comprehensive care and treatment to treat our invisible wounds, and you can do it well, even virtually, as COVID has taught us to do.

But it begins with parity and a care philosophy that values accessibility, quality, and value more than anything else. That’s Headstrong’s care philosophy; to not discriminate around elements of eligibility criteria associated with reimbursement schemes developed by insurers. Like our primary care system, it affords access universally, without judgement, just like when you walk into your doctor’s office with a sore throat and the response is “the doctor will be with you in a moment.” That is responsive medicine of a primary nature. Yet when we try to access mental health care and treatment, the response setting often reflects a litany of barriers to effective care with things like session limits, stigma, and more care bureaucracy than care itself. Sadly, it is as if mental health care and treatment was designed to be of limited nature, as if the mind is secondary to the body itself.

We know today that a healthy mind creates a healthy body and that healthy bodies absolutely thrive on healthy minds. The two are synonymous, yet from a medical perspective, a governmental perspective, they are not equal, for they lack parity.

If it takes a change to the New York State Constitution to create greater equity and parity between physical and mental health, so be it. Whatever it takes to afford the citizens of this nation equal care for the mind and body is a price worth paying; for one without the other only serves the interests of a few while the many continue to struggle with their wellbeing.

About Headstrong

Founded in 2012, Headstrong provides confidential, cost-free, bureaucracy-free, and stigma-free mental health care treatment for the nation’s military connected members and their families. Headstrong currently offers effective, individually tailored, and comprehensive in-person and telehealth treatment programs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other related military trauma within 12 States and 28 markets. Treating ~1,000 veterans a month with over a total of 70,000 clinical sessions, Headstrong is well on its way to becoming a national mental health treatment practice of choice for America’s military connected families. Follow Headstrong @getheadstrong on social media or visit our website: getheadstrong.org to learn more on how Headstrong is healing the hidden wounds of war.