September 07, 2016
Approximately 43.6 million adults in the U.S. suffer from some type of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That is more than 18 percent of the U.S. population. At that rate, it's nearly impossible for someone to go their whole lives without either experiencing mental illness first hand or witnessing a friend or loved one go through it. Despite a significant rate of mental illness in the U.S., many people don’t receive the treatment they need, which leads to disability, homelessness, alcohol and substance abuse, incarceration and suicide. Too little education regarding mental illness and lack of access to treatment are creating a crisis in America.
While there are a multitude of health problems people can experience, there are several common illnesses linked with mental health, including:
Many mental health issues, particularly if left untreated, lead to suicidal thoughts and attempts. SAMHSA reported 9.4 million adults seriously considered killing themselves in 2014. Of those individuals, 2.7 million developed a suicide plan and 1.1 million made a non-fatal attempt.
Without access to proper treatment, many individuals who suffer from one or more of these conditions are unable to gain an education and keep a job. People who suffer from an untreated mental illness may not graduate from high school or college. Without a strong education, these individuals can have a harder time getting and maintaining a job. Mental illness that appears later in life can devastate an already established career. Both situations lead to a low income.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2015, there were more than 550,000 people who were homeless. Given how difficult it is to continuously and accurately track homeless individuals, this figure could be low. Up to 25 percent of these homeless individuals suffer from a type of mental illness. However, without an income, insurance and place to live, it’s nearly impossible for them to seek treatment.
The true mental health crisis in America is not that individuals suffer from these conditions but that those who need treatment often don’t get it. Mental Health America reported that more than half of adults with a mental illness did not receive treatment between 2012 and 2013. The percentage of people who weren’t treated varies greatly depending on where they live and that state's nonprofit and Medicaid resources. Also, approximately 20 percent of adults with mental illnesses reported they attempted to receive treatment but did not have their needs met.
There are social, political, geographic and financial barriers to getting treatment, which is why many people suffer for years without proper medical care. Initial barriers to treatment often include:
However, once people move past the initial barriers to treatment, they still experience access and financial issues. Systematic barriers to treatment include:
The Affordable Care Act greatly expanded the number of people with insurance, including individuals on Medicaid, which has improved overall access to mental health care. However insurance does not guarantee people have access to treatment. Insurance policies do not necessarily guarantee coverage of mental health issues or access to mental health care providers within the person’s geographic region. The insurance policy also might not cover the person’s prescriptions. Individuals on Medicaid in certain states may have particular issues in accessing mental health care. States who expanded Medicaid in 2014 have more mental and behavioral health services available for their residents. However, millions of individuals live in states that didn’t expand their Medicaid services.
It’s clear that education regarding mental illness needs to improve. More families and coworkers need to be able to spot the signs of someone in need. However, once someone can identify that they or someone they care about needs help, they need to be able to get it. Access to mental health care can only improve when it becomes a national priority with additional budgetary resources.
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