Is America More Mentally Ill?

In short, yes. I don’t have much longer that I can relish in an outside perspective from within American borders, but I cannot deny that I am American. And, as an American, it only seems appropriate that I speak for the many people affected by mental illness.

So why does there seem to be a so-called epidemic in America regarding mental health? Why do other countries not seem to have as many problems, despite so many similarities in an industrialized society?

It’s not easy to record and compare data, admittedly, so it’s a stretch to say that America is the home of mental illness. However, recent articles have surfaced with data to at least document the number of those in the States facing mental health problems.

The number? Over eight million. More than 8 million American adults suffer from depression, anxiety and stress – and most of them are blocked from healthcare services. New research reveals people with mental illness are 10 times more likely to struggle with paying for treatment. Examining national health care data in the US from 2006 to 2014, researchers warned the rate of people diagnosed with psychological distress is far greater than previously thought, affecting all aspects of life.

So why is mental illness on the rise in America? CBS News says  the aftermath of the 2007 Great Recession has led to greater everyday stress and long-term psychological damage. Earning a living and maintaining the classic “American dream” is becoming much harder. The loss of jobs could mean there’s a loss of community and a loss of role as wage earners and providers.

There’s even the explanation that correlates more mental illness with the rise of opioid abuse, more people resorting to narcotics and drugs to ease the pain, which leads to addiction and more distress. Not exactly a great combination.

I do understand these arguments and explanations. But I also see a very big contributor in the American healthcare system. While the rise of psychological distress is not stopping anytime soon, less people are able to turn to professionals for help and treatment. For some, the lack of care has been due to affordability issues. Researchers estimate that approximately one in 10 affected adults in 2014 did not have health insurance that provided access to a mental health professional. This should have been helped by the Affordable Care Act plans that were available starting that year, but there is still a shortage of mental health personnel in the U.S., particularly in more rural areas.

RT reports nearly one in 10 distressed Americans did not have health insurance that would give them access to a psychiatrist or counselor in 2014. A rise was also noted when it came to delays associated with professional help due to insufficient mental health coverage, with 10.5 percent experiencing such delays in 2014. Also, those who actually received access to a professional and were prescribed medication found themselves increasingly unable to pay for their prescriptions. Almost 10 percent could not pay in 2014.

It feels like America is in a dangerous limbo, a growing imbalance of those suffering and those who are qualified and available to help. Although the Affordable Care Act has made significant strides to help everyone access the healthcare they need, the mental health side of things is still lagging. Big time.

Really, not having the ability to seek counsel or medication to truly treat your mental health is a breach on civil rights. Getting help for so many isn’t even an option. And this lack of resources affects everyone. According to Psychiatric Times, for depression alone, the estimated annual costs in 2010 totaled $210.5 billion, including both direct costs and indirect costs such as mortality arising from depression-related suicides as well as the effects of depression in the workplace. That is unacceptable.

How should we move forward from here? We need a comprehensive strategy to improve mental healthcare, a similar action to initiatives involving heart disease or infectious diseases. After all, those who are mentally ill are more prone to contracting infectious disease, and the combination of stress and depression commonly leads to heart disease. Need I mention that suicide rates are also on the rise? Mental illness is the silent cause of much of our ailments if we dig deep enough.

An all-encompassing reform should target populations in need, including those affected with and at risk for mental disorders. Such a mental health care plan would be comprehensive, multifaceted, and diverse and include universal access and broad geographic distribution, dissemination and implementation of treatments, multidisciplinary team-based care, and workforce development and deployment.

The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the European Union, has a lengthy report for those interested in reading it about all of the progress and challenges seen in European countries as they improve their mental healthcare. But just the fact there is detailed work and efforts toward improvement is noteworthy. There is cohesion and discussion happening. America, take some notes.

I’ve supported the ACA from the beginning, but there are major flawed areas, mental health being one of them. Regardless of your geographical location or financial status, every American should be able to receive mental healthcare. It’s the government’s responsibility to provide it, and the American people to promote it and spread awareness supporting it. Maybe then my answer to today’s question won’t have to be “yes.”

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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