Several months ago, SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) issued the results of their national survey on mental health in the United States. This 5-year study brought into clear focus the growing prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse in our country. As is widely know, mental illness does not discriminate based on race, gender, or socioeconomic class.
A closer examination of the survey's data revealed some alarming findings. First and foremost, the survey evidenced that over 45 million Americans - approximately one in five adults - suffer from some form of mental illness. Among those adults, the percentage having a serious disorder was 4.8 percent (or 11 million individuals). Perhaps most alarming, however, was the fact that 62 percent of those individuals failed to receive health services for their illness. As Pamela Hyde, a SAMHSA administrator, stated, "Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed."
So what accounts for these disturbing statistics? The survey hints at the answer, suggesting that record rates of unemployment have certainly contributed. Unfortunately, as so many Americans know from personal experience, losing your job almost always means losing your health insurance; thereby, leaving many vulnerable at the time when they are most in need. According to the survey, over 6 million adults in 2009 had a mental health disorder that went untreated and of this number, 42 percent said it was because they could not afford their treatment.
These findings document that we are currently facing a mental health crisis in the United States, reflecting a culmination of factors including economic uncertainty, diminishing social services, as well as continued stigmatization of mental illness. It's disconcerting that one in every five Americans suffers a mental illness and of those many fail to receive adequate treatment. How is it that one of the most prosperous and economically advanced countries in the world has failed to care for its own? This strikes me as a question we should be asking ourselves and one in need of immediate attention.
Tyger Latham, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, DC. He counsels individuals and couples and has a particular interest in sexual trauma, gender development, and LGBT concerns. His blog, Therapy Matters, explores the art and science of psychotherapy.