This year, as in any other given year, more than a quarter of Americans have a diagnosable mental health problem. Issues range from depression to bipolar disorder and fewer than half of our fellow citizens get any kind of treatment for it. Many people who do get treatment usually seek some sort of drug therapy from their doctor. They usually do that because there is still a stigma associated with seeing a “shrink.” There is actually an app for iPad called “Shrinky.” The app has a very soothing voice that leads you through some thought processes designed to help you deal with anxiety. The creator said he came up with the idea to help his patients when they were not in his office. I think it also helps folks who still feel a little bit funny going to see the “head” guy.

Health insurance generally covers prescription drugs to treat mental illness but getting your individual family plan medical insurance to pay for your treatment just got a bit easier thanks to the Mental Health Parity Act, which took effect last year. It requires mental health benefits (if offered) to be as generous as benefits for medical and surgical care. Take for instance a high deductible health plan with doctor copayments, you may go to see a family care doctor or a specialist for a flat dollar amount called a copayment and the deductible does not have to be met before you can do that. So, if your copayment is $35 for each doctor visit, it will be the same to see the physiatrist or psychologist.

Another reason people turn to their primary-care doctor is that it can be tough to get an appointment with a mental health expert. A recent study found that the average wait to see a psychiatrist for a non-emergency appointment was 54 days for patients with an individual family plan. Psychiatrists, in particular, are in short supply, especially in rural areas. Psychologists say they have a solution to help address the access problems: give them more authority to prescribe psychotropic medications. Psychiatrists often only prescribe drugs. Psychologists on the other hand provide other types of treatment such as talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. In order for a psychologist to write prescriptions, in the few jurisdictions where they are allowed to do so, they must complete work equivalent to an additional master’s degree in psychopharmacology.