The low priority of mental health services to society is, of course, a complex issue. Stigma, lack of lobbying resources, and denial of the impact of mental illness certainly play roles in the lack of public interest and investment in mental health. Resources are thin for the unemployed and uninsured mentally ill, and the field of psychiatry deserves kudos for attempting to meet the needs of this population in return for little financial gain.
But for patients with resources, we must recognize and advocate that mental health care is as important as treatment for a torn ligament and deserves equitable reimbursement. The abilities to laugh, to work, and to love are as vital as the ability to return to beach volleyball.
Psychiatrists must realize that at some point, expectations of relatively low reimbursements and medical standing become self-fulfilling prophecies, because our capitalist society tends to most value those who value themselves. The correction of societal bias and of the resultant devaluation of our services will require constant efforts to educate, negotiate, and assert the value of mental health care in a healthy society. And as self-serving as it may sound, psychiatrists—the voices, faces, and business representatives of mental health—will elevate the status and treatment of their patients as they work to raise their own scientific and economic status as physicians.