We often receive newsletters from organizations and programs, including the Lindner Center for Hope. Last week, they shared with us an interesting article on the current mental health profession situation in the United States. We thought it was an interesting article. Louise was especially inspired after reading it. She said, “I really like this article and agree that most of our problems and issues with violence in this country stem from mental illness being untreated rather than gun control. The way to a healthy functioning society is through helping people to have healthy lifestyles, healthy boundaries and compassion for fellow human beings! You can quote me!”
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the mental health situation, especially after reading this thought provoking article!
Dr. Paul E. Keck, President and CEO of Lindner Center of Hope, provided an opinion piece to The Cincinnati Enquirer in response to discussions about untreated mental illness in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The following is the unedited version.
Crisis in Mental Healthcare: A Call to Arms
The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was a horrific tragedy. The board members and employees of Lindner Center of HOPE send our prayers ot the community of Newtown and all the families who are grieving. Tragedies like this should not have to occur in order for the country to turn its attention to the root cause of violent acts of this caliber…untreated mental illness.
To be frank, the United States would have fewer mass killings if individuals with severe mental illness had access to and received proper treatment. Availability of weapons is not the issue, but rather the number of people with untreated mental illness.
Though whether a serious mental illness was involved in the Newtown tragedy has not been confirmed, we do know that mental illness exists in every part of the United States. One in five American adults reported suffering from mental illness within the past year, with one in 20 reporting serious mental illness that resulted in “functional impairment,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s latest annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report. Of the 7.7 million Americans with severe mental illness, only half are getting treatment. Of the half of those with severe mental illness not receiveing treatment, 350,000 become societal problems, as they account for 1/3 of the homeless population, 1/5 of the prison inmates, and 1/10 of those who commit homicides. Since 2009, four shooting rampages have occured, while mental health care continues to be negatively impacted by budget cuts, closures, stigma and lack of coverage from insurers.
Mental illness is our country’s number one public health problem. Conservative estimates from the United States epidemiological surveys indicate that 2.5 times more American will suffer from a major psychiatric disoder in their lifetime, compared with cancer, heart disease, and diabetes combined. Just recently, a Business Courier blog article on NOvember 6, highlighted depression as the most expensive risk factor in increasing per capital annual medical spending for employers, yet we continue to avoid addressing the issue directly. Locally, two hospitals recently closed their psychiatric units, exemplifying a declining committment to treat those illnesses. People with mental and addictive disorders are a very vulnerable population needing access to a range of services, including life-saving care for patients who are acutely ill. Mental illnesses are not a hazard to society; it’s untreated mental illness that becomes dangerous.
Mental illness is common and highly treatable, yet access to care is limited and growing increasingly more limited. The fact is the cost of diagnosis and treatment is negligible compared with the cost of mental illness to individuals and society. While treatment advances in the field have resulted in positive outcomes for those suffering, barriers to accessing care seem to be multiplying. Even now individuals have to make choices between basic necessities and addressing their mental health needs. It’s an understatement to say that it is an impossible choice. Neglecting either can be life threatening.
As it stands, of teh 60 million American adults suffering from mental illness in their lifetime, only about one-fifth will receive adequate treatment, as reported bye the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 2009. Even as it exists now, reimbursement from most major carriers and the Federal government does not cover even half the real costs of treatment and we already know many American scannot afford insurance or care even for physical health issues.
Isn’t it time we make a shift toward addressing this issue, rather than continuing to turn our focus on the wrong issues? At every level we need to advocate for improving access to quality mental health care, not only for humanitarian reasons, but because it is economically imperative. To get involved, to reach out to your congress or state representative or actively support and get involved with the National Association of Psychiatric Health systems (NAPHS) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and their efforts.
Imagine if the country had been focusing on addressing untreated mental illness prior to December 14, 2012, Christmas in Newtown may have been a lot different this year.