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Mental Health Data Show Quality, Need

By Executive Director Ralph Provenza

The latest data on mental health illness and treatment have been compiled recently by the National Council for Behavioral Healthcare, the national mental health trade association representing over 2000 community mental health agencies.

As a Board member of that organization, I am continually impressed with the scope and quality of the services provided by this country’s community mental health organizations (like UCS).  I am also struck by the scope of the problems we face and the glaring lack of resources available to people with mental illness in this country.  For example:

  • 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness (57.7 million people every year)
  • 49% of Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities have a mental illness
  • Mental illness costs our economy $80 billion every year
  • Mental illness represents 15% of the total economic burden of all disease
  • It is estimated that serious mental illness costs over $255 billion a year in lost earnings
  • More than half of prison and jail inmates have mental health issues
  • Up to 2/3 of homeless adults suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness or a combination of all three
  • One quarter of all social security disability payments are for individuals with mental illness
  • More than 36,000 people commit suicide every year
  • Individuals with mental illness die on average 25 years sooner than the general population
  • Our nation’s community mental health centers employ only 250,000 people and treat only 8 million of the estimated 57 million adults and children who need care
  • Roughly 90% of people in treatment will eventually recover
  • Mental health treatments work for 80% of people with bi-polar disorder, 70% of people with depression or panic disorders, and 60% of people with schizophrenia
  • Mental health treatment success rates compare favorably to those for physical health care such as asthma (70 to 80%), cardiovascular (60 to 70%) and heart disease (41 to 52%)
  • Unfortunately 2/3 of people needing mental health treatment go without, mostly because of inability to access care and stigma

Things are somewhat better here in Vermont where the investments in community mental health agencies and services have been generally higher than in the rest of the country.  We still struggle in Vermont, however, with access issues, stigma, the cost of healthcare, poverty, and other challenges.

To prepare for the challenges to come and to meet the diverse needs of our clients, agencies like UCS will need to stay on top of best practice models while at the time and seek efficiencies wherever they can find them.

As demands on our service systems increase – in the area of adult outpatient and substance abuse treatment in particular – we will need to embrace an “episodic care” approach for many of our clients and their problems and acknowledge that clients should be able to access mental health services in the same way we tend to access our primary care physicians – for strategic and immediate but brief help with an emergent issue.

In addition, it’s clear to me that community mental health centers will need to integrate our services better with healthcare, partner proactively with housing and social service organizations, begin to offer treatment programs to those involved with Corrections and the legal system and make better use of technology and social media.

We know that some things haven’t changed and that good treatment comes from a good helping relationship.  We also know that, to improve the quality of life the people we serve, which remains our agency’s mission, we will need to acknowledge and embrace the fact that “change is gonna come”.

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