Mental health refers to the way people think, feel, and behave, and how managing emotions and behaviors impact functioning, relationships, adapting to change, and coping with adversity. Just as autism represents a spectrum of challenges and strengths, mental health also occurs on a spectrum. But it is important to note autism is not a mental illness. Some autistic people have no co-occurring health conditions. But many autistic individuals have more than one co-occurring mental health condition. At the population level, mental health is addressed through public health insurance but also has its own set of policies and care.
The purpose of mental health parity is to require that mental health services are covered to the same degree as, or in parity with, medical and surgical services. In 2008, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity ACT (MHPAEA) was passed to enforce mental health service parity at the federal level. The MHPAEA advanced equal access to mental health services among certain types of insurance plans. Further state-level mental health parity laws and autism insurance mandates continue the goal of addressing gaps in mental health or autism insurance coverage.