Last week CNN ran a piece that effectively encapsulated the glaring difference in access to behavioral health services among the haves and have-nots. Framed around pop singer Brittany Spears’ very public  mental breakdown and subsequent journey to treatment, the piece touched on the rampant and escalating mental health issues plaguing Americans of all economic backgrounds, and the comparatively little access to care resources that most of the mentally ill population is afforded. Examining and contextualizing this disparity is key to providing adequate long-term care for those whose health, safety and quality of life are at direct risk from mental illness.

American Mental Illness by the Numbers

Data from the National Institutes of Mental Health indicates that one in five (nearly 47 million) Americans suffer from some form of mental illness as of 2017. The agency also reports that an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode that same year, representing over seven percent of the entire adult population in the United States. At the same time, data from the American Psychiatric Association indicates that 40 percent of Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that nearly eight million Americans suffer from co-occurring substance use and mental illness. Mental disorder has increased across practically every age group, and is an increasingly common cause of pediatric ER admissions.

Mental Health Disorder and the American Poor

Separate and apart from these numbers, and perhaps all the more tragic, are the ones facing the poorer population of the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly 16 percent of adults under the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) struggled with depression. On a somewhat related note, over 30 percent of adults with depression reported moderate or extreme difficulty with work, home, or in their social lives because of their depression symptoms. A recent study from the University of Maryland indicates that less than 15 percent of children living in poverty who are struggling with mental illness have access to treatment. At the same time, the authors state that living in a poor or low-income household has been linked to poor health and increased risk for mental health problems in both children and adults that can persist across the life span.

A Vicious and Potentially Defeating Cycle

In addition to the development of early and latent chemical imbalances, the consequences of poverty, including professional issues, strained family relationships and cost-related negligence of physical and behavioral health needs directly contributes to the onset and proliferation of mental disorder. When someone spends a lifetime not being able to pay their bills, it gives way to chronic anxiety; when someone is stuck in a job that in which they’re constantly mistreated because they can’t afford to lose it, that gives way to depression. These are just two examples of a complex and deeply individualistic problem that has created an entire culture of mental illness.

The Way Forward

Making treatment more affordable through increased insurance accessibility and other means can have a direct impact on improving patients’ access to treatment and long-term health outcomes. Treatment must encompass a comprehensive array of services that address each patient’s individual case history and care needs, including acute medical care, medication management and long-term psychiatric counseling. CARMAhealth is committed to providing a full continuum of care to individuals suffering from addiction and co-occurring mental illness. If you or your loved one is vulnerable, contact one of our locations today to get the help you need.