Mental health: Many needs go unmet

October 21, 2016 Providence Health Team

More than half the Americans with a mental illness go untreated, according to the new survey of the state of mental health care.

The report, State of Mental Health in America 2017, was issued by Mental Health America, a 107-year-old nonprofit formerly known as the National Mental Health Association. It illustrates the enormous gap between people who would benefit from mental health services and those who provide them. And in some ways, the problem is getting worse.

Among the highlights of the new report:

  • One in five Americans, or about 40 million people, have a mental health condition.
  • Of those with a mental illness, 56 percent didn’t receive treatment in 2014, the most recent year included in the survey.
  • The mental health workforce, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors, faces a severe shortage.
  • The rates of depression among young people are rising and four out of every five young people with severe depression get no treatment or insufficient treatment.
  • States with less access to mental health care incarcerate more people with mental health conditions.
  • Connecticut is ranked as the state with the combination of lowest prevalence of mental illness and highest degree of access to services. Nevada is ranked worst.

“Once again, our report shows that too many Americans are suffering, and far too many are not receiving the treatment they need to live healthy and productive lives,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America. “Mental illness touches everyone. We must improve access to care and treatments, and we need to put a premium on early identification and early intervention for everyone with mental health concerns.”

Mental health issues across the spectrum

Mental health conditions may range from mild depression to a psychotic disorder that disconnects a person from reality. Because they aren’t visually obvious or because people may be reluctant to acknowledge them, mental illnesses may go undetected and untreated.

Most troublingly, people who have mental health symptoms are more pessimistic about social attitudes toward their conditions than people without symptoms. A pair of surveys conducted in 2006 and 2007 found that 57 percent of adults without symptoms believe that people are caring and sympathetic toward people with mental illnesses – but only 25 percent of adults with symptoms felt the same.

“Persons with mental illness generally are able to live successful, full lives, particularly if they receive proper treatment and support,” wrote the authors of the Attitudes Toward Mental Illness report in 2010. “To reduce the effects of stigma, public health and mental health agencies can implement local activities to reduce negative attitudes about mental illness.”

In that sense, the latest Mental Health America report is somewhat encouraging. More Americans have access to mental health services as health care reform has reduced the number of uninsured people, the researchers found.

To learn more

You can read the report, complete with state-by-state rankings of mental health services, at the Mental Health America web site. A press release describing the key findings is here.

You can explore data about mental health prevalence, costs of treatment, myths and stigma about mental health conditions at the Mental Health Basics page on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Providence has made mental health a key initiative, sparked by a $100 million investment this summer in a new Institute for Mental Health and Wellness.

As part of our effort to shine a light on the issue, we’ve been publishing articles dispelling some long-held myths about mental health. For example, Myth: Children are too young to develop mental illness and Myth: People with mental illness can’t handle work or school.

We want to improve the ratio of people connecting to the mental health resources they need. You can find a Providence provider here.

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