OPINION: Ohioans need good mental healthcare now more than ever

Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., and Democrat Kathy Wyenandt, of Liberty Twp., (pictured) debated on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the VOA Learning Center in West Chester Twp. They are competing for the 52nd Ohio House District, which Lang was appointed to in September 2017. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., and Democrat Kathy Wyenandt, of Liberty Twp., (pictured) debated on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the VOA Learning Center in West Chester Twp. They are competing for the 52nd Ohio House District, which Lang was appointed to in September 2017. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

Access to affordable, adequate mental healthcare in Ohio is a crisis that continues.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) a nonpartisan health policy organization, says 36.5 percent of Ohioans reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in June, more than tripling from 11 percent in 2019. It’s not difficult to determine why when Ohioans are being hit on two related fronts: coronavirus concerns coupled with Ohio’s almost 11 percent unemployment rate.

While Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and private insurance cover some of Ohio’s mental healthcare costs, small business owners often don’t have the bargaining power of large organizations. They pay on average eight to 18 percent more than large organizations for the same insurance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Multi-generational farmers, who may be dealing with crop failure from extreme temperatures coupled with business succession issues, often have spotty internet service, which inhibits telemedicine access.

It’s also no secret that Ohio is still being ravaged by the opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Ohio is among the nation’s top five states with the highest number of drug overdoses: 35.9 people per 100,000 population.

Suicide is rising in Ohio, too. Twenty-eight thousand Ohioans have died from opioid overdoses over the last decade, an increase of 45 percent from 2007 to 2018. Alarmingly, our youth appear most at risk. Suicides by young people ages 10 to 24 years old increased 56 percent over the last decade, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Yet of 1.7 million Ohio adults reporting living with a mental illness in 2018, only 47 percent-- less than half-- said they received mental health services.

Efforts to improve mental healthcare in Ohio should also include help for drug and alcohol addiction. My oldest brother, Dave, struggled with bipolar disorder that went undiagnosed for far too long. His underlying mental illness led to an alcohol addiction that interfered with his relationships with family and friends, as well as his livelihood. It was five years ago this month that we lost him to addiction. It’s heartbreaking to consider that with the right diagnosis and intervention at a crucial time, he might still be alive today.

Physical and mental health are closely entwined with many diseases. If we treat both the physical and mental causes of disease, we’ll treat the whole problem, not just part of it.

Reducing the stigma and shame families feel in admitting a loved one needs mental healthcare is a start. Crucial are treatment options that are as affordable, reliable and easily attainable as primary medical healthcare.

As your state senator, I’ll work to give families the tools they need to support and care for loved ones who struggle with anxiety, depression and addiction. Good mental healthcare is needed in Ohio now more than ever.

Kathy Wyenandt is running for Ohio state senator in District 4, Butler County. To read about her stances on other important Ohio issues, visit www.kathyforohio.com.