As healthcare reform legislation slowly takes shape, it is imperative that our public officials ensure equal coverage for mental health disorders.

The Senate Finance Committee made a critical change in its healthcare reform bill earlier this month to include full coverage for mental healthcare. This was an essential and welcome addition that was long overdue for the millions of men, women and children affected by conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But this measure could easily fall by the wayside in the coming weeks if each of us is not vigilant in insisting that full coverage for mental health is a non-negotiable component of healthcare reform.

Too much is at stake to argue otherwise. We are all impacted by brain disorders. Statistics show that one in five Americans is diagnosed with a mental illness in his or her lifetime. Virtually every other American knows or loves someone who is diagnosed with a mental illness.

"Behavioral health disorders are the number one cause of disability in this nation today."

With treatment, even those with the most serious mental health diagnoses can get better or stabilize. Without treatment, those with brain disorders can deteriorate, their conditions becoming needlessly chronic and debilitating. People struggle to function. They close themselves off from family and friends. They lose their jobs and homes.

In one way or another, our entire nation suffers. Behavioral health disorders are the number one cause of disability in this nation today. Imagine the potential savings that could be realized if those who currently receive disability payments because of untreated mental illness were able to work again.

In 30 years in the mental health field, I have had the great privilege to see the transformation that occurs when a person with an untreated mental illness finally receives proper care.

I have seen lives restored, families reunited and communities turned around in the wake of a person receiving effective treatment for a brain disorder.

The power to transform lives and improve our nation is within our reach if Congress retains full, equitable mental health coverage within the healthcare reform legislation. We must urge members of the Senate and House of Representatives to retain this crucial measure. We must stand up for every man, woman and child who deserves quality mental healthcare and ensure that our voices are heard over the din of others fighting for their own interests.

Full mental health benefits will ensure that every person gets the care they deserve, that every family touched by a brain disorder will not suffer needlessly. If we work together to see this through, we will all be better for it.

Robert Williams is CEO of Centerstone of Indiana, a non-profit organization that provides mental health and addiction services throughout south central Indiana. He can be reached through cathi.norton@centerstone.org.