The United States has a problem with mental illness.

And it’s not just that there are people who need help, but that our system is so broken that they can’t get it.

It’s time to face the fact that our mental health system is downright ‘busted.’

Our mental health system arose out of an American health care paradox: people suffering from emotional distress – which might include every one of us over the course of a lifetime – are often more deeply damaged than people with physical illness, yet the value placed on the prevention and treatment of mental conditions is inferior to the value placed on the prevention and treatment of physical disease. Even when the failures of our mental health system become painfully tangible through incidents such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, mental health care in our country continues to be relegated to lower-priority status. There have been some advances over the past decade, to be sure, but these have been limited in scope. The system remains structurally fragmented, financially inaccessible, and socially ostracizing. This is a system crying out for attention and repair.

Unfortunately, as much talk as we’ve heard from our President, politicians and pundits about health care reform, mental health is generally absent from the most prominent conversations. Grassroots advocacy organizations are limited in the leverage they can provide in the absence of bold political support. As such, too many admirable efforts have been born and since died, waiting for a political champion to intervene at the ‘systems level’. The question is who on Capitol Hill will dare to be great when it comes to championing systematic mental health care reform without undermining the process with fluff added to bills? For the cynics who think mental health reform is impossible, The United Kingdom’s mental health system has gone from 0 to 60 in the past ten years, suggesting that mental health is just as amenable to reform as any other aspect of health care.

I have been able to observe the impact of The South Essex Partnership Trust (SEPT) on the mental health system in England and it has not gone unnoticed. It is one of the most progressive mental health systems in the world and provides a model for other countries to follow.

SEPT leadership began reforming Englands Mental Health System by spearheading a public education and de-stigmatization campaign that has helped to shift perceptions of mental illness. Grounded in the understanding that our physical surroundings have an impact on our ability to heal, SEPT’s stellar management has developed acute care psychiatric facilities in South Essex that serve as a national best-practice. At SEPT, those that were once referred to as ‘psych patients’ have become ‘service users’, and each is given a single room, attractive linens and curtains, an hour-by-hour schedule of recovery activities ranging from meditation to dance, and fresh food prepared on-site daily. What were once long, drab corridors have been painted and adorned with modern art, creating a home-like environment that promotes recovery.

This philosophy of recovery-based mental health care has been gaining traction in the UK for years. This approach is based on the idea that individuals should be able to recover from mental health issues, rather than just managing them. The recovery model is designed to help people overcome their issues and lead healthy lives.

This approach is a stark contrast to the way that mental health services are currently provided in the United States. Many Americans rely on short-term solutions that do not address the underlying causes of these problems. As a result, many people find themselves recycled through incarceration and hospitalization over and over again.

I do think we can learn a thing or two from SEPTs  philosophy based on recovery instead of a treat and street approach.