The Hidden Costs We All Pay: Mental Health in America
I see her every day. Some days she is wearing a dirty hooded sweatshirt and no pants. Other days she wears a tank top, snow pants and no shoes. Once, she stopped me in the Walmart parking lot and asked if I had any hot water she could borrow. Unlike the other days that I saw her, today I thought “I wonder what her name is?” Like many Americans, the nameless wanderer that roams my neighborhood day and night suffers from mental illness. She is human. She deserves care regardless if she has a permanent address or not.
My curious mind became fixated on mental health statistics today. I wanted to know how many Americans suffer with a form of mental illness and what impacts it can have on our society. The statistics that I discovered were alarming, but also very sobering. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “In 2012, there were an estimated 43.7 million adults age 18 or older in the United States with any mental impairment in the past year; 9.6 million with a serious mental illness in the past year.”
Those numbers are astronomical. What I found even more alarming was the lack of information available for help. Being a thirty-something divorced woman in the United States with a history of mental illness in my family, I understand how difficult it can be to take the first steps to seek help. The most crippling factor being financial resources. But taking finances out of the equation, if I wanted today to be my first step as a patient seeking help, all I am basically told to do is ask a doctor or nurse about their sliding-scale fee treatments. Great for me, but not so great for someone who can’t even afford pants and shoes. If millions of people are affected by mental illness every year according to NIMH, “only about half of those affected receive treatment,” what happens to the other half?
Formerly known as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, the protections of MHPAEA now fall under the Affordable Care Act. One important protection to note is that federal law “prevents group health plans and issuers that provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits from imposing less favorable benefit limitations than those set for medical or surgical benefits.” Basically, under the Affordable Care Act deductibles and co-insurance payments for mental and behavioral health will be recognized equally to other services such as medical or surgical care. This step should help encourage patients to seek the affordable care they need in the near future.
When I think about the other half of Americans suffering mental illness and not getting treatment, the issue of suicide instantly comes to mind. In 2013, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention stated, “non-fatal injuries due to self-harm cost an estimated $2 billion annually for medical care and another $4.3 billion is spent for indirect costs, such as lost wages.” Of all of the facts that I came across this is the most alarming. As a whole, if we are spending nearly $6 billion to treat mental illness patients after suicide attempts, what will it take to redirect those funds to an early time point, say they minute they walk into a clinic for help? Just something to think about the next time you see that familiar wandering soul walking down your street with no pants.
[Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece and doesn’t necessarily reflect the viewpoints of Sensible Reason.]