Between 2009 and 2011, states cumulatively cut more than $1.8 billion from their budgets for services for children and adults living with mental illness. However, untreated mental illnesses in the U.S. cost more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity alone. When one examines the full picture of mental health, failing to treat mental illness ultimately costs society more in the end.
Dollars, cents and sense
Mental Illness Policy Org. notes that of the 700,000 homeless interviewed for a 2007 survey, over 250,000 were diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, homeless individuals spend more time in hospitals than other people. The longer stays averaged out to nearly $2,500 per visit. That cost is passed onto consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums, soaring hospital rates and increased municipal taxes to cover police, fire and ambulance costs.
The University of Texas conducted a two-year survey on how much money society spends on arresting and processing homeless individuals for vagrancy, loitering, etc. According to the study, each homeless person cost taxpayers in excess of $14,000 annually, principally for jail-related costs.
On the less visible side of the cost ledger, the University of Washington notes between 6 percent and 15 percent of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia die by suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of premature death in individuals with the disease.
When illness infringes on human rights
In addressing the human toll mental illness exacts, in its 2013 publication “Investing in Mental Health: Evidence for Action,” the World Health Organization veers from the standard financial considerations regarding expenditures on health care and focuses on the human rights aspect. On page 17, the authors write, “The infringement of basic rights and entitlements represents the strongest single reason for appropriate corrective action by governments and civil society (including engagement and empowerment of organizations of people with mental disorders as well as families and carers).”
Mary Giliberti, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, notes in a blog on the Huffington Post that it costs $31,000 to incarcerate a mentally ill person in Wayne County, Michigan. She notes community mental health services for the same individual would cost the county less than a third of that amount. More to the point, Giliberti references a Human Right Watch report, “Callous and Cruel,” which documents the excessive and violent methods prison personnel often employ when dealing with a noncompliant mentally ill prisoner. The report recounts story after story of mentally ill inmates being beaten, placed in restraints, held in solitary confinement and otherwise being mistreated by staff ill-equipped to deal with an individual in the throes of a psychotic episode.
The Department of Justice released the following numbers
- Over 12 percent of spouses who killed their opposite number had a history of untreated mental illness
- Over 15 percent of parents who killed their children had a history of untreated mental illness
- Over 25 percent of children who killed their parents had a history of untreated mental illness
- Over 17 percent of children who killed their siblings had a history of untreated mental illness
There’s no certainty that greater spending on mental health care will prevent parricide, infanticide or even homicide. But at minimum, such investment can help restore dignity and balance to unbalanced lives.
If you or your loved one is struggling with mental illness, there is help available. Sovereign Health Group is a leading provider of treatment for behavioral health disorders disorders. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer
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