Treating Mental Illness Makes Sense

The cost of untreated mental illness far surpasses the price of treatment

Untreated mental illness effects more than the individual or their family. It costs the entire community.

The toll mental illness takes each year in loss of life, and pain and suffering of families is only part of the story.

Untreated mental illness costs money. The American economy loses an estimated $113 billion a year due to untreated and mistreated mental illness. Lost productivity amounts to $105 billion of these losses, and $8 billion is spent on welfare and crime (Rice, 1999).

Cutting dollars for mental health care can increase overall medical costs. A 30 percent cost reduction in mental health services at a large Connecticut corporation triggered a 37 percent increase in medical care use and sick leave by employees using mental health services, thus costing the corporation more money rather than less ([Yale Bulletin & Calendar], September 20-27, 1999).

Mental health services can save money. Spending less than $500 over a two year period to help treat depression in a primary care setting would save business $3,836 during that time (Rand, 2001).

Mental health services can help reduce crime. For each dollar invested in treatment, studies have found a four to seven dollar cost-savings on crime and criminal justice costs. The cost of incarcerating someone for five years is $125,000 – a cost that is much higher than treatment for mental health conditions (ONDP, 1999).

Mental health parity is affordable. The Congressional Budget Office reported to the Senate that the parity legislation would raise insurance rates less than 1 percent.

The Question of Parity:

Millions of Americans with mental disorders do not have equal access to health insurance. Many health plans discriminate against these people by limiting mental health and substance abuse healthcare by imposing lower day and visit limits, higher co-payments and deductibles, and lower annual and lifetime spending caps.

Comprehensive health insurance parity legislation would ban these practices by requiring the same health insurance coverage for mental disorders as physical disorders.

Treating mental health issues would reduce medical costs.

• The mind/body connection is undeniable. People who have untreated mental health issues use more general health services than those who seek mental health care when they need it. That translates to dramatic, and unnecessary, increases in overall healthcare costs.

• People with high rates of medical services use have four times the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders. Effective treatment of mental illness, especially depression, is associated with improved outcomes for chronic physical disorders.

• Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. In fact, chronic stress may double the risk of heart attack. Both depression and chronic stress can weaken the immune system and make people vulnerable to a host of illnesses.

• Research estimates that 50 to 80 percent of all medical illnesses reported to physicians have a strong emotional or stress-related component.

Treating mental health issues makes good business sense.

• More than 90 percent of employees agree that their mental health and personal problems spill over into their professional lives, and have a direct impact on their job performance. Mental health conditions are actually the second leading cause of absenteeism.

• Untreated and mistreated mental illness costs the United States $150 billion in lost productivity each year, and U.S. businesses foot up to $44 billion of this bill.

• Workplace stress causes about 1 million employees to miss work each day.

• Three out of four employees who seek care for workplace issues or mental health problems see substantial improvement in work performance after treatment.

• According to RAND Corporation, depression results in more “bed” days than many other medical ailments, including ulcers, diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis.

The cost that untreated mental illness has on local law enforcement and other emergency responders; jails and prisons; city, county and federal governments; human and social services; homeless shelters; and hospitals is staggering. It affects all of us even if we are not associated with a person with mental illness.

Mental illness is a physical condition and it is not the fault of the individual who suffers. Mental illness can and should be treated because it would benefit our society as a whole and it would stop the unnecessary suffering of individuals and those associated with persons with mental illness.

For more information on parity or how you can make a difference:

Mental Health Association in NC, Cape Fear Chapter
P.O. Box 15141
Wilmington, NC 28408
Phone (910) 794-1722

Mental Health Association in NC
3820 Bland Road
Raleigh, NC 27609
Phone (919) 981-0740

Information for this article was taken from the National Mental Health Association web site

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