Tuesday, May 3, 2011

For Many, Mental Health Needs Left Unmet

A recent phone call from a counselor who stated that the parents of her student would not get their suicidal child help due to financial constraints reminded me that for many in the U.S. mental health services are still not easily accessible because of the associated costs. This is especially disheartening given that the need for such services is increasing, not decreasing. Here are some the latest statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org):

  • An estimated 19 million Americans suffer from depression
  • Approximately 2 million people suffer from bipolar disorder
  • About 3 million people suffer from schizophrenia
  • More than 34,000 Americans die by suicide every year; suicide is the country's 11th leading cause of death
  • Every 15 minutes someone commits suicide
  • More than 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric illness at the time of their death (most often depression)
As has been discussed previously, there are may barriers to care, one of the most significant likely being the cost. The AFSP reports that depressive illnesses cost approximately $30 - 44 billion each year.  Schizophrenia costs the nation about $48 billion annually. It is likely in part because the high costs of mental health care, that only 1 in 3 depressed people seeks help.

Still, there are many other factors that one needs to consider in regard to this issue. Children often do not have a choice in whether or not to seek mental health services. Providers require parental consent in order to counsel children, so unless the child is clearly a danger to himself or others there's little that can be done to intervene if the parents or guardians refuse psychiatric treatment. Additionally, there are many cultures in which seeking therapy or medication is even more stigmatized than what we already tend to see in American society. It has been noted that African Americans tend to seek mental health services less than their Caucasian counterparts. Certain psychiatric illnesses, such as eating disorders, have, at times, been associated with white people by some minority group members adding another layer of stigma to the disease. Any combination of factors (problematic parents, stigma, financial constraints) unfortunately results in people who need help not seeking it. So for many both within the United States and abroad, specific and, for the most part, treatable mental illnesses are not being addressed to the detriment of the afflicted person and his/her family.

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