Thousands in Georgia gain new access to mental health resources

Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 5:54 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Thousands of Georgians gained access to better mental health resources through the Mental Health Parity Act.

The bipartisan bill HB 1013 took effect July 1, 2022.

The law’s biggest immediate change requires private health insurers to cover mental health the same as physical ailments. Previously, insurance might only cover a limited number of visits or charge a higher co-pay for mental health problems.

Tommy Jackson, a mental health advocate, said these resources could help some of his loved ones.

“We have people in our direct family who have dealt with depression and with anxiety,” said Jackson. “When you go and try to see someone, it’s not covered in most places. The expense causes a lot of people not to get the help they need and that’s a shame.”

The legislation opens the door for other resources in the state including facilities, programming, monetary grants, and research and data.

Chris Johnson, the communications director for Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, said the state’s approach to mental health is evolving.

“This is a long-term process. This is not an easy fix. If it were to be easy and inexpensive, it would have been done a long time ago,” said Johnson.

Mental Health America ranks Georgia 48th in the country for access to mental health care. The poor score is an improvement from the state’s dead-last ranking just a few years prior.

Johnson said rural communities, children, non-English speakers, and people released from jail or prison will likely benefit the most from the increase in resources.

However, it will likely take years – and possibly a decade – for some communities to see certain improvements. Resources will be tailored to an area’s different needs.

“Is it Telehealth? Is it new facilities being built? Is it transportation to facilities?” said Johnson. “How do we make those connections to help Georgia get the support they need?”

Atlanta resident Kennedy Stephens said these new resources could help people in her community.

“No matter your age, your gender, your orientation, you have to take care of yourself,” said Stephens. “Mental health is a puzzle. It’s a lot of different pieces working together to keep yourself in a positive mind frame.”

Johnson also hopes the legislation will spark revitalization amongst the industry’s exhausted professionals.

“They’ve been demoralized over a period of time, working in a system that’s dead-last in the country,” he said. “They see an opportunity for change and hope, and I think that’ll change the system in itself.”

Critics of the legislation question whether all mental health ailments should receive coverage from health insurance companies.