USA Today series examines the cost of neglecting people with mental illness

In our current mainstream culture, mental illness is all but invisible. People with mental illness often end up in jail or receiving inadequate care, prolonging the struggle towards recovery. For many, it is a lifelong struggle. Recently, a common topic of conversation has been whether or not the government should have a more active role in this issue.

Is the United States failing its citizens with mental illness? Out of all American adults with mental illness, 60% receive no treatment whatsoever. Forty percent of the adults included in that population has with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, that also receive no treatment. Individuals that do try to receive help are being cut off by lack of funding and resources in the health care system. Those without the money or families to support them often end up homeless, in jail, or in ER rooms of hospitals. Every year, almost 40,000 American citizens die by suicide. Of those deaths, 90% are related to mental illness.

USA Today recently released a comprehensive, four chapter series titled “A man-made disaster: A mental health system drowning from neglect.” The series exposes the “financial and human toll for neglecting the mentally ill” of America. The statistics above are all included one of the articles, available here, and come from sources such as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thomas Insel, of the National Institute of Mental Health, estimates that mental illness costs the United States at least $444 billion every year, from medical care, disability payments, and “lost productivity.” This does not include the cost of caregivers, or taxes that go towards the prison system. According to Insel, “The way we pay for mental health today is the most expensive way possible. We don’t provide support early, so we end up paying for lifelong support.”

The series also highlights the recent harsh budget cuts aimed at mental health services. According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Director’s Robert Glover, “states cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds – nearly 10% of the total supply.” Could this issue stem from society’s failure to see mental illness as a disease like any other? Hospitals are being forced to house patients in emergency rooms as they wait for psychiatric beds to open, which not only gives inadequate care to patients with mental illness, but also infringes upon the emergency care given to those without. Part four of USA Today’s report emphasizes that despite various studies that show that increased investing into mental health services will save more in the long term, such services are usually the first to be cut during budgeting crises. Connected directly to this issue is the fact that people with mental illness who receive inadequate health care often end up in prison. In the words of the report itself, “According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 40% of adults with serious mental illness are arrested at some point, often for petty crimes…that are caused by their illness, rather than an intent to harm.” In addition, “about 2 million people with mental illness go to jail every year, according to a 2013 study in Psychiatric Services in Advance.” We are failing those among us with mental illness. In our society, in the prison system, in the lack of adequate community-based and hospital support – we are failing those among us with mental illness. Something needs to change.

The video below, included in the USA Today series, may begin with a commercial which was not chosen by or for the benefit of DisAbility Rights Galaxy.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.