by Kimberly Allen, RN
The state of mental health care in this country has made the news again. I find it truly tragic that it takes such horrendous events like school shootings to remind people just how important it is. And while I believe all the gun laws in the world will do no good without improving the state of mental health care in this country.
The world Health Organization has put forth evidence indicating that approximately half of the world’s population is affected by mental illness. This impacts not only their self esteem and their relationships but their ability to function. In the US more than 1 in 4 adults suffer from some form of mental illness, including substance abuse, every year and experts estimate that at least 15 million children and teens also suffer from mental illness, many undiagnosed.
The recent recession and round after round of budget cuts has hit mental health care services hard. Especially in states that are struggling with economic issues. Unfortunately the need and demand for services has been soaring and instead of attempting to meet those needs states are closing facilities, reducing services and even removing numerous patients from their rolls. The National Alliance for Mental Illness reports that states have cut almost $2 billion from their public mental health systems. Of the states surveyed by the State Mental Health Association, more than half have reduced funding for community mental health programs and services and cut staff at state mental health agencies. Many states also closed state mental hospitals and/or wards. Nationally over the past 3 years, states have closed 2,158 beds for mentally ill patients and they are expected to close another 1,772 this year to cover more budget cuts. There are some states that have cut staffing so short that they are no longer in compliance with Federal Medicare and Medicaid funding rules.
Mental health is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to funding. This leaves many people especially children at risk for developing serious mental health issues. Currently only approximately 7% of the children in the US that need mental health services actually receive appropriate treatment from mental health professionals. In some states children with severe mental health issues wait an average of 37 days to begin treatment.
It is crucial to maintain good mental health in order to live a long healthy life. Poor mental and emotional health can lead to poor physical health as well as substance abuse. There is increasing evidence that indicates emotional abilities affect certain behaviors including stress management and physical health. There is also research indicating that people that have difficulty with expressing emotions tend to have anti-social behaviors which are a direct reflection of their mental health. Many people with emotional instability turn to drug and/or alcohol abuse as well as fights and vandalism which only makes the problem worse.
Mental illness is treatable and until congress and states accept that mental health is a priority problem and allocate funding for much needed services there are going to continue to be millions of people walking around on the verge of a serious mental breakdown and there will be more violence.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.