Getting insurance coverage for mental health services is difficult. So is talking about mental illness. That is why state Senator Julian Cyr, a Democrat from Truro, and other legislators are “coming out” about their personal issues.
Cyr, who attended the Nauset regional schools, where he said he was bullied, suffered anxiety attacks. Now he has led the senate to pass the Mental Health ABC Act. As chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery, Cyr joined Senate President Karen Spilka in talking about why the mental health reform bill matters to them personally. Spilka’s father suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder after World War II. Following her lead, Cyr opened up about his problems getting therapy covered as he changed jobs.
“I couldn’t get my insurance to pay for mental health services — and I’m a 34-year-old state senator who worked in health care policy,” he told me on Friday. Imagine how hard it is for everyone else.
The ABC Act would set the stage for mental health to be treated the same as physical ailments. That is, it aims to make health insurance companies pay for therapy just like they are required to pay for doctor visits. By getting insurance to pay decent rates to therapists, more people would be encouraged to become therapists (even people of color who speak languages other than English — because right now about 90 percent of therapists are white and non-Latino, Cyr said).
For those who need treatment, a check-up from the neck up should be just as routine as getting an annual physical exam.
But it’s not, and that isn’t just because this state doesn’t force insurers to abide by the parity laws that have existed for years. It’s also because people are afraid to admit they need a therapist. Calling one is often fraught with embarrassment and shame.
That’s why Cyr coming out about his mental health struggle is so important. Like most LGBTQ teenagers, he was bullied, beginning at Nauset Regional Middle School. In high school and college, he suffered anxiety attacks and night terrors and developed an eating disorder.
But starting in high school, Cyr got help, and then he doggedly sought and received therapy at N.Y.U. After college he found treatment in Washington, D.C. and Boston. Sometimes, he had to fight to get insurance to cover it, but he did it.
Meanwhile he won a seat in the state senate at age 30. He ran a campaign, made public speeches, and stood up for his beliefs. Just like anyone else with a health problem, he dealt with it so he could go on with his life. The ABC Act will create a better mental health care system. Cyr’s example encourages us to use it.