Mental Health by the Numbers

Jan 3, 2013, 12:41 PM

Mental health has become a more prominent topic since the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn., that claimed 26 lives, 20 of them children. The Alliance for Health Reform, a non-profit group based in Washington, D.C., that provides information to journalists and Congressional staff on health reform issues, released some key numbers on mental health issues recently that can be useful in moving the discussion forward:

  • An estimated 45.9 million adults in the United States age 18 or older had any mental illness in 2010 (one out of five people in this age group).
  • In 2010, an estimated 31.3 million adults received any kind of mental health service during the past year.
  • Among adults with severe mental illness, 60.8 percent received mental health services during the past year.
  • An estimated 11.1 million adults reported an unmet need for mental health care in the past year. Of those, 5.2 million had not received any mental health care at all in the past year. 
  • People who are out of work are four times as likely as those with jobs to report symptoms consistent with severe mental illness.
  • The cost of care is the reason most often given by people who recognize that they need mental health treatment but don’t get it. 

According to research by the Alliance, mental illnesses range from occasionally troubling to life-consuming. To cope with temporary problems, such as depression following illness or a traumatic event, many people need only a short-term intervention. But others experience more debilitating and long-lasting conditions that interfere with routine activities such as work, school and family, and can require lifelong treatment.

Effective, well-documented treatments for mental illness and substance abuse have been developed and widely disseminated, including psychotherapy,  psychosocial treatment and prescription medications. But a significant number of Americans do not have adequate access to mental health treatment or do not take advantage of available help.

Reasons for not getting care include:

  • Cost (43.7 percent)
  • Not knowing where to go for services (20.5 percent)
  • Reluctance to let anyone else know about mental health issues (10 percent)
  • Incomplete health insurance coverage for the cost of care (9.4 percent) or complete lack of coverage for treatment (7.8 percent)
  • Worry that treatment would have a negative effect on work (8.3 percent)

According to the Alliance, coverage for mental health and substance use conditions was written into the health reform law of 2010. Treatment for mental health and substance abuse conditions was included in the essential benefits package required for health policies to be sold through the new health insurance exchanges beginning in 2014. Other provisions of the law that can be helpful for people with mental health disorders include:

  • Elimination of coverage exclusions because of a pre-existing condition 
  • Expansion of Medicaid ,which may bring millions of people with substance use or mental health disorders into the treatment system
  • Extension of coverage under parents' health insurance policies to children under the age of 26—a time in life when many face the beginning of mental illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that from FY2009 to FY2012, more than $1.6 billion was cut from state mental health budgets.

>>Weigh In: How have mental health services been impacted in your community?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.