February 14, 2022

Good morning MindSite News readers. In today’s newsletter, we bring you a MindSite News exclusive on the accelerating fight for health insurance parity – and one family’s experience trying to get help for their son. Also: Canadian doctors are treating patients with prescriptions for nature. And a report in the New York Times looks at the failure of New York City’s mental health system to help a man with severe mental illness – with tragic consequences.

A family’s struggle to care for their son’s autism reveals the gaps in mental health parity laws

Photo courtesy Kumar family

Inferior insurance coverage for behavioral health has persisted for decades. The Kumar family learned about it the hard way when they tried to get their insurer to cover autism therapy for their son. In a deeply reported story, MindSite News looked at the family’s struggle to get the help they needed – and at recent efforts to strengthen and enforce mental health parity laws. The story was also published by USA Today. Our companion story presents a timeline of the 60-year effort to achieve equitable insurance coverage for mental health services.

Prescription: Nature

Photo: Shutterstock

Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals in Canada are prescribing doses of nature – in the form of free passes to Canadian national parks. A program called PaRx has teamed up with Parks Canada to give providers in British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba free park passes to prescribe to patients, according to stories by NPR and The Washington Post. The effort is based on research pointing to mental and physical benefits from spending time in nature. “There’s almost no medical condition that nature doesn’t make better,” said Melissa Lem, a family physician and director of the PaRx initiative.

Missed chances and inadequate treatment led to a death on the tracks

Martial Simon started showing symptoms of schizophrenia in his 30s and was hospitalized at least 20 times. The 61-year-old former athlete, cabby and parking-lot manager spent years going through the revolving doors of psychiatric hospitals without getting the help he needed, his life an exhausting treadmill of hospitalization, arrests, releases and missed parole appointments. On Jan. 15, he shoved a stranger, Michelle Alyssa Go, to her death at the Times Square subway station in New York in an act that shocked the city and drew hundreds of mourners to a vigil in Times Square.

The New York Times examined the decades of failures that led to the tragedy. A fundamental problem is that no one took responsibility for Simon’s well-being, Michael Pratts, a psychiatrist with long experience in the city’s psychiatric ERs, told the Times. “There’s nobody in charge of this guy over time,” he said.

“People do not ‘fall between the cracks,’” said  Xavier Amador a psychologist who worked in psychiatric inpatient programs in New York for decades. “In our mental health care system, they are pushed between the cracks. They’re pushed out the door, and there’s an abyss.” Simon lived with his worried older sister Josette Simon for a while, but she lost track of him in 2013. “To know my brother cost somebody their life, not because he’s a bad person, but because he didn’t get help? It’s unbearable,” she told the Times.

In other news:

Teva Pharmaceuticals, expects to pay up to $3.6 billion in cash and drugs to settle thousands of lawsuits alleging that the Israeli-based company and other drugmakers fueled the U.S. opioid epidemic, according to Reuters. Teva, the world’s biggest maker of generic medicines, said it also will pay Texas $225 million – $150 million in cash and the rest in products – to settle claims brought by the state.

Women incarcerated at a prison in England engaged in 1,750 incidents of self-harm during a 12-month period ending last September, according to a report issued by the chief inspector of prisons and covered by the BBC. Multiple issues at Foston Hall in Derbyshire were highlighted in a report following an unannounced inspection. A separate briefing paper on inspections at five women’s prisons raised “serious concerns about high rates of self-harm and vulnerability.” Across England and Wales, the paper said, there were 3,808 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 female prisoners in 2021 compared with 546 among males.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

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Type of work:

Don Sapatkin is an independent journalist who reports on science and health care. His primary focus for nearly two decades has been public health, especially policy, access to care, health disparities...