Millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental illness. During May, we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness regarding the signs of a mental health disorder and where to find help. By educating the public on mental illness, organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness hope to reduce the stigma and advocate for policies that support these individuals.
While we’ve come a long way in recent decades, we still have a lot of work to do. In this post, we’re going to explore the prevalence of mental health, why so many cases still go untreated and ways to improve mental health services.
How Common is Mental Illness in the United States?
Mental illness is extremely common in the United States. About 43.8 billion adults have a mental illness – that’s equal to 1 in 5 adults. Among these individuals, 60 percent were left untreated according to a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Untreated mental illness not only affects adults but children as well. Approximately 17 million children in the U.S. have or have had a mental illness, and sadly, most do not receive treatment. This has a severe impact on our nation’s economy, costing about $100 billion in lost productivity.
Why Are So Many People Not Treated for Mental Illness?
In order to address this public health concern, it’s important to recognize the difference between people who lack access to treatment and people who refuse treatment. Let’s look at some of the reasons why so many people with mental illness go untreated:
- Unable to determine if a mental health condition is present
- Unable to afford the costs associated with treating a mental illness
- Stigma of mental illness – some people are embarrassed
- Busy schedules with little time to acknowledge mental health
- Lack of transportation, health insurance or childcare
- Fear of being labeled as having a mental health problem
There have been a lot of improvements made over the years, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Fortunately, this is what Mental Health Awareness Month aims to do – reduce the stigma of mental illness, educate people on mental health and make treatment more accessible.
Ways to Improve Mental Health Services
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an “optimal mix of services pyramid.” What this means is that the lowest costing but most frequently used mental health treatment services are the base of the pyramid. The more expensive but lesser used services are the top. To provide these services, communities are encouraged to limit mental hospitals, integrate mental health services into primary health care and promote self-care.
Here are some of the ways that we can improve mental health outcomes in our communities:
- Improve access to mental health care
- Remove barriers to accessing treatment
- Create a better balance between medication and environment
- Develop a better understanding of the factors that lead to mental illness
- Create interventions for at-risk individuals
- Earlier identification and prevention for people at risk
- Overhaul of diagnostic practices
- More and better assessments and education for society
Implications for Not Treating Mental Illness
Mental illness is not something that can be beat with willpower or encouragement alone. It’s a progressive condition that can lead to more serious health problems down the road. While there are numerous reasons why people don’t always get the treatment they deserve, there are more options for care than ever before.
Here are some of the consequences that people and society at large face when not treating mental illness:
Worsening mental health problems
Mental health issues don’t just go away. The longer these issues last, the more difficult they can be to treat. Untreated anxiety can turn into panic attacks, while untreated trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Because mental illness affects every aspect of your life, it can also lead to self-harm and suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of death, with one death happening every 11 minutes.
Roughly half of people with a mental health problem abuse drugs or alcohol at some point. Substance abuse is closely related to mental illness because people use drugs or alcohol to numb their pain and escape their thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, all that happens is that the person develops an addiction that ends up worsening their primary mental health problem. Thankfully, people with dual diagnosis respond well to holistic addiction treatment.
Chronic health issues
Leaving mental illness untreated also leads to a wide range of physical health problems like chronic pain, strokes, heart attacks and obesity. It’s hard to take care of your physical health when you don’t feel well, and there’s no question that mental health affects the entire body. By treating a mental health disorder, your physical health will also improve.
Homelessness and job instability
Mental illness makes it difficult to cope with everyday life. People with depression may struggle to get out of bed which can lead to job loss, foreclosure and homelessness. Facing these issues is enough to make a person feel hopeless and helpless, causing them to turn to drugs or alcohol or attempt suicide. Mental health treatment doesn’t just address the mental illness – it prevents people from going down a destructive path.
Where to Find Help for Mental Health Problems
If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health, know that help is available regardless of if it is Mental Health Awareness Month, where you live, what insurance you carry, or what problems you are facing. Research shows that most people who receive treatment get better and may even recover completely.
You can start with your primary care doctor who can provide you with a referral for treatment, or you may contact a 1-800 number for immediate assistance. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has an online chat and a toll free number: 1-800-273-TALK. The SAMHSA Treatment Referral Line can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP. They can direct you to mental health treatment services in your area.
You can also contact a local treatment center in your area. Continuum Recovery Center in Phoenix AZ has an online chat, a referral form and a phone number: 1-855-869-7132. We can verify your insurance and get you into our outpatient rehab in Phoenix right away. We are successful in treating both substance use and mental health disorders.