Too many people may ignore their mental health because of the stigma attached to mental illness, or they land on waiting lists when they seek help.
Each is a problem. A Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City study shows the cost of untreated serious mental illness. Tom Cranshaw, who retired as president and CEO of Tri-County Mental Health Services Inc., shared the 2012 report.
“The findings are quite relevant if not more so today,” Cranshaw said in a telephone interview as the nation prepares to observe May as Mental Health Month.
The Affordable Care Act should help more people get the insurance needed to cover mental health services.
“That’s a step in the right direction,” Cranshaw said. “There’s a movement toward greater levels of parity to make sure mental illness gets treated like other diseases.”
But Missouri and Kansas need to sign on to the Medicaid expansion, enabling more people to get help, said Guyla Stidmon, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas City. People encountering waiting lists for mental health services is part of the problem.
“Getting in the front door is awful,” Stidmon said. “The system isn’t getting any better.”
The Health Care Foundation reports that about one in 10 adults in the Kansas City area, or 224,593 people, will suffer a serious mental illness, which includes major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.
A striking 40 percent of such cases, or close to 95,000 people, go untreated. The study notes that the annual cost burden of untreated serious mental illness in this area is $624 million. The estimate is based on lost productivity, higher unemployment rates, medical expenses tied to a lack of treatment, suicides, more extensive inpatient and outpatient care, criminal activity, social welfare administrative costs, long-term or nursing home care, and Social Security disability.
Kansas, Missouri and local governments annually absorb $59.6 million of the cost of untreated mental illness. The federal government eats $58.7 million of the bill. The private sector and employers get hit with a whopping $228.9 million per year.
But the biggest hit is to individuals and their families who pick up $275.2 million of the annual cost. Treatments can be effective.
“The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that between 70 percent and 90 percent of patients experience a significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life when pharmacological and psychosocial treatments are combined,” the report said.
Waiting lists, the stigma of having mental illness and the fear of being labeled cause many to forgo treatment. Continuous news reports on mass shootings by people suffering mental illness haven’t helped. Each delays treatment resulting in lower productivity or “presenteeism” caused by untreated serious mental illness. That annually costs area employers $160.7 million.
A higher absenteeism rate by people with a serious mental illness costs employers $53.6 million annually. But the report also points out that serious mental illness impairs workers’ earning potential.
“Overall, those with a serious mental illness earn about $16,000 less per year than those without,” the report said. “The cost model also included unrealized earnings due to suicide, which amounted to $59.1 million annually in Greater Kansas City.
“This is income that would have been earned if employed workers with a serious mental illness had lived and continued working until retirement.”
The report notes that poor mental health is often the cause of poor physical health, costing society even more. Improving the treatment rate of people with a serious mental illness is something that neither the government nor any of us can afford to ignore.