It is a typical Monday morning in our community. There is a bustle of activity as people prepare for work and school - another busy day for Washington County citizens. And yet, beneath this industrious veneer there are many individuals for whom even contemplating another week is difficult, who are living with a mental illness. And not by choice - who would choose despair over hope, anxiety over serenity, or hallucinations over clarity?
The sharp decreases in mental health funding have resulted in a drastic decline in our ability to provide public mental health services to non-Medicaid clients in Washington County. In fact, over the past five years the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery (MHAR) Board has lost 75 percent of its funding for services to individuals who are not covered by Medicaid.
Mental illnesses are serious medical conditions and are, according to the National Institutes of Health, experienced by nearly 25 percent of American adults in a given year. In addition, a Surgeon General's report reveals that 10 percent of all children and adolescents suffer from emotional and mental disorders that cause significant impairment to their everyday lives. It is unfortunate that less than one-third of adults and half of children with mental illness receive treatment.
Without treatment the consequences of mental illness are staggering.
Untreated mental health issues cause unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, family disruption, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and discarded lives.
People living with severe mental illnesses die 25 years earlier than those without serious mental illnesses.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates the economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year in the United States; The Ohio Business Roundtable believes that depression alone has an annual economic cost to Ohioans of $4 billion to $5 billion.
Adults with severe and untreated mental illness do not contribute to the tax base. More than 90 percent of adults with severe mental illness are unemployed. For each employed Ohioan, the combined state and local annual tax gain is, on average, $2,869 per person.
Fifty-eight percent of children with Severe Emotional Disturbance do not graduate from high school.
Individuals with untreated mental illness are frequently homeless and/or incarcerated.
Children with parent(s) with mental illness are over-represented in the child welfare system; only one-third of children with a parent who has a serious mental illness are being raised by that parent.
The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 percent and 80 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatments and supports. The recovery rate for bipolar disorder is 80 percent; panic disorder, 75 percent; major depression, between 70 and 80 percent; and for schizophrenia, the rate is 60 percent.
Effective mental health treatment in the community reduces costs. A report from the Surgeon General states that appropriately delivered treatment is tremendously cost-effective, with each $1 invested in mental health treatment returning $4 to $7 in savings on crime and criminal justice costs alone. When individuals living with mental illness have no access to community mental health services, they are more likely to face crises that require hospitalization; hospitalizing a person costs approximately five times more per year than providing services to that same person in the community.
Imagine having diabetes or cancer with no access to care until the disease is at a life threatening crisis. Such is the case for many Washington County citizens living with mental illness. Supporting the public mental health system of care in Washington County is not only the right thing to do, it is an economically sound investment in our future. Otherwise, we are penny wise and pound foolish.
Miriam R. Keith is consumer support coordinator with the Washington County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery Board, 344 Muskingum Drive, Marietta.