Why I’m Optimistic About the Future of Mental Healthcare

Dr. Ashley Castro, Founding Executive Director
August 7, 2022

As mental health advocates, we naturally spend a lot of time thinking about the many ways our mental health system is failing.

Whether it’s persistently high rates of suicide, ridiculously long waitlists, the more than 50% of adults who don’t ever receive needed care, the dire shortage of bilingual therapists to serve linguistic minorities, or the insurance industry’s ruinous gatekeeping of access to care, there’s no shortage of reasons to be frustrated with the state of mental healthcare today. We’re obviously a long way away from a mental health system that truly meets society’s needs.

That said, there are some bright spots amidst the gloom. Because this column is all about progress, here are two areas where I believe we’ve already started making progress worth celebrating.

We’re talking about mental health a lot more

It would be hard not to notice the societal shift in how often and openly we’re talking about mental health. Public figures have become increasingly candid regarding their emotional struggles. Some have gone as far as sharing their diagnoses and experiences with treatment, like Pete Davidson with borderline personality disorder and Selena Gomez with bipolar disorder. These disclosures have helped us collectively become more comfortable talking about our own mental health challenges.

But not all credit goes to celebrities. Mental health nonprofits like Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Born This Way Foundation, and the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, among many others, have helped to decrease stigma through their education and advocacy. And advocates with lived experience have helped shape the conversation on social media. Kat Selwyn Layton, who has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, started the #EndTheStigma campaign on social media in 2016.

What’s most exciting to me is the growing focus on equity and access to care. There seems to be a shared understanding that the system is failing and that it’s not OK. That’s why I believe the tide is turning toward an unstoppable swell of equity-focused activism.

We’re doing a better job with historically neglected conditions and communities

I’ve written before about the uneven distribution of mental health resources by disorder. Historically, there have been fewer MH professionals available to treat autism spectrum, substance use, and eating disorders. Insurance companies have also been caught limiting access to care for people with these conditions. Fortunately, Congress is now doing more to ensure that there’s parity in insurance coverage and increased access to treatment for eating disorders.  

People who have lived experiences with these conditions are also taking the lead in closing care gaps. For example, Project HEAL is a nonprofit focused on increasing access to eating disorder treatment. Their co-founders both have lived experience with eating disorders.

Also inspiring are the grassroots efforts led by Black, Latino, Native, and Asian communities to create resources tailored to their mental health needs and experiences. (Check out those blog posts for our roundup of resources, and shoot us an email if you know a good one we missed.) Depressed While Black, founded by Imade Nibokun, is a standout nonprofit that provides Black-affirming personal care items to Black people in inpatient psychiatric programs. This organization is meeting a real need for marginalized patients in our mental health system.

The takeaway

Notice a trend? The good that’s happening in our mental health system is happening because advocates and people with lived experience are leading the way.

It feels safe to assume that organizations founded and led by people within the community are the ones best poised to meet the needs of that community. I feel most hopeful about the future of mental healthcare when I see the innovation and authenticity they’re bringing to the table.

Our role at Therapy4thePeople is to amplify this work. As part of our mission to increase access to care for POC and low-income help-seekers, we want to ensure that they know about and understand all the resources created for them. We believe our platform of affordable mental health services and our educational resources are well on their way toward achieving this goal.

Thank you for your advocacy, and for supporting our work.

This edition of Progress Notes was first published in our quarterly newsletter.