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More than half of US adults with mental illness aren't getting treatment

by Kayla Ruble
Oct 20 2016, 2:00am

Rates of mental illness are on the rise in the U.S., and more than half of the adults diagnosed are not receiving treatment, according to the latest data from advocacy group Mental Health America.

Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. has a mental illness, the organization reported in its annual State of Mental Health Report, which analyzed government data through 2014. That’s a total of 44 million Americans, up from 42 million in 2012.

While the rate of people with health insurance is rising, access to treatment is only “slowly improving,” according to the group’s report. More than 20 million American adults who had a mental illness — 56.5 percent of the total — did not receive any treatment in the past year. This is down from 59 percent in 2011. Kids under the age of 18 fared even worse, with 80 percent not getting treatment.

For children ages 12-17, rates of depression rose from 8.5 percent in 2011 to 11.0 percent in 2014, totaling 2.7 million kids.

Insured rates for individuals with mental illness have increased since the passing of the Affordable Care Act, the so-called “Obamacare” health care reform law enacted in 2010 that expanded insurance coverage. In 2011, 19 percent of adults with mental illness were uninsured. Large portions of Obamacare went into effect in January 2014, and since then the uninsured rates have dropped across the board. According to the Mental Health America survey, by the end of 2014, 17 percent of adults with a mental illness did not have insurance. States that did not expand Medicaid access under Obamacare saw uninsured rates at 19 percent, compared to 13 percent for those who opted to expand that coverage.

Both individual and systemic issues can create barriers to mental health care regardless of whether someone’s insured. Some of these obstacles include a lack of mental health care providers, availability of multiple treatment options, and cost for care like insurance co-pays or costs not covered by health care plans. On a personal level, failure to recognize or acknowledge mental health symptoms can prevent someone from getting treatment.

“The results show a country that is indeed more insured but still falling dramatically short in meeting the needs of those with mental health concerns,” Mental Health America wrote in a press release issued Tuesday. The group’s president, Paul Gionfriddo, said “far too many” people are not receiving treatment and that more needs to be done to improve access to care and treatments, while also focusing on early intervention for those with mental health concerns.

Untreated mental illness carries a range of personal and societal costs. People not treated can suffer loss of productivity and income, which in turn affects the economy. Mental Health America said their data showed a “strong” correlation between adults who cannot get care for mental illness and ending up in the criminal justice system. Their report found that six out of 10 states with the least mental health care access similarly had the highest incarceration rates. Groups like the American Psychological Association have made similar correlations, asserting that mentally ill individuals not getting treatment can end up incarcerated instead.