Research on mental health conditions and their validated, empirically-based treatments is prevalent. For many conditions, gold standards of care have been established. In recent years, there have been growing movements aimed at increasing awareness of mental health issues, and for reducing stigma, on social media platforms.
Yet, in many cases, individuals who need treatment for mental health concerns lack access or ability to seek care – and the fortunate minority who do get services are unlikely to be receiving the optimal treatment.
In other words, we are in dire need of greater efforts to address systemic issues in mental health care – from detection and diagnosis to quality treatment.
Mental Health Statistics in Adults
In the United States, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness per year, with estimates as high as 1 in 4 adults living with mental illness. In addition, approximately 10.2 million adults have dual diagnosis, or a co-occurring substance use disorder (or addiction) along with a mental health condition. Substance use disorders in their own right are more prevalent among those whose other mental health conditions go untreated. Of those individuals experiencing one or more mental health condition, nearly 60% of those affected did not receive treatment services in the past year. Access to health insurance is certainly one part of the accessibility problem; however even among insured adults, over a quarter of adults with a mental health disability reported they were unable to see a doctor due to costs – because treatment was too costly and/or their health insurance did not adequately cover treatment.
The picture is even bleaker for those with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (together representing about 3.7% of the population). On average, those with serious mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier, most of which is attributable to treatable medical conditions. With improved access to care, effective psychiatric treatment can improve overall health outcomes.
The most prevalent mental health condition, depression, affects twice as many individuals at approximately 7% of the population, with a total estimated economic burden of over $200 billion per year and rising.
Mental Health Statistics in Children and Adolescents
One in 5 children age 13-18 also lives with mental illness. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; with three-quarters presenting by age 24. Among youth, untreated mental illness is even more alarming and consequences can be dire. Yet nearly two-thirds of youth with depression do not receive any mental health treatment, and the average delay to getting treatment is 8-10 years. One intolerable consequence of these staggering statistics is that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth aged 15-24. In addition, more than 90% of those who commit suicide did so with one or more mental health condition.
There are social and academic consequences as well. Every single year from 2001 through 2011, an increasing percentage of students with emotional disturbances dropped out of school, with 37% or more dropping out yearly, higher than any other disability category, putting these youths at increased risk for juvenile delinquency and later problems.
However, hope is not lost. In children and adolescents especially, negative consequences can be largely avoided or mitigated with early intervention and prevention. The vast majority (65-80%) of individuals with mental health conditions will improve with appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing monitoring.
Access to care is clearly a part of the equation in getting needed services and improved functioning; in the United States, the top 10 ranked states in terms of Access to Care also ranked among the top 10 states in positive outcomes including increased high school graduation and disability graduation rates, and low unemployment, homelessness, poverty, child maltreatment, and violent crime.
Conclusion and Lingering Questions
Why are adults and children with mental illness being left without treatment? Why don’t those who have access to treatment get services? Why do those affected by mental illness have so much difficulty accessing care?
These are complex questions without one simple answer. Mental health treatment needs to be made more accessible, from insurance policies that actually cover needed services, to patients’ ability to navigate complex healthcare systems, to healthcare workers ability to quickly and easily detect psychiatric conditions, identify their patients’ needs, and connect them with appropriate referrals.
Related to improved access is reduced stigma surrounding not only mental illness, but the process involved in getting help, which can be not only burdensome and exhausting, but stigmatizing for the individuals and families that need them. These issues are intertwined – improved accessibility and treatment options will help to increase awareness and reduce stigma, while reduced stigma and increased awareness has benefits on encouraging treatment-seeking among those who desperately need care.