By Bart Magee, Ph.D.
The transition to a New Year and decade prompts us to reflect on our lives and consider the state of our society. At Access Institute we’ve been pondering all of this and our hopes for the future. What kinds of advances, challenges, and changes in the mental health field did the recent decade produce? How do those developments match what we see more broadly in society? Are we doing everything we can to meet the needs of our communities?
While it’s impossible to truly wrap one’s mind around a decade, many have called the 2010s a decade of disruption and disillusionment. We saw the questioning of many basic assumptions about progress. Faith in institutions, in the economic system, and in technological advancement all waned, and with that, we saw increases in income inequality, social discord, and political division. We also experienced a number of social movements that raised awareness and confronted historical inequities regarding race, class, gender, and sexual orientation (Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, Gay Marriage).
Trends in mental health were mixed over the decade. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Mental Health Parity laws helped increase access to care, however, at the end of the decade, most middle- and lower-income people still lacked meaningful access to mental health care, and 56% of adults with a mental illness received no treatment. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation rose, particularly among youth. On the positive side, shame and stigma around mental illness continue to diminish. Never before have so many people (sports figures, actors, political leaders) come out publicly to talk about their struggles in moving and inspiring ways. Mental health treatment improved over the decade supported by advances in the understanding of human development, psychology, neuroscience, and the social forces that impact mental wellness.
At Access Institute, we have been challenged to meet the increasing demand for services and to develop our training and treatments to address the complex needs of our patients. In the past decade not only did we work to refine our core treatments and training (psychotherapy, psychiatry, and assessment) we also enhanced them by adding new services in the areas of clinical case management and new trainings designed to support the staff in our partner programs (teachers, social workers, nurses).
For the 2020s, we hope for a decade of healing and increased connection among all people and their communities. The principles embedded in our values and methods at Access Institute, including, empathy, non-judgmental recognition, and compassion, if implemented more broadly, hold the key to opening up those healing connections. And contrary to what many might think, these emotional capacities can be learned and developed in anyone. They just need to be facilitated and practiced together. Our goal for the coming decade will be to find new and innovative ways to support the development of empathic attitudes and related behaviors more broadly and deeply here in the Bay Area and beyond. From all of us at Access Institute- Happy New Year.