We all pay for untreated mental illness
The Kansas City Star
All pay for untreated mental illness
By BERNARD FRANKLIN
Special to The Star
With one in 10 adults suffering from a serious mental illness in any given year, mental illness touches many families in our region. Although these illnesses can be effectively treated, sadlymany cases are untreated.
Without treatment, adults living with severe mental illness are rarely able to secure employment, maintain adequate housing and live a productive life. Families, businesses, health providers, and taxpayers are forced to pay millions through emergency medical care, long-term care, unemployment, loss of productivity and law enforcement.
According to an economic model recently released by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the costs to metropolitan Kansas City of untreated mental illness is more than $624 million per year. And these estimates are likely conservative, as the report only examined the costs of those who have untreated severe mental illness, not those who suffer from shorter-term, yet clinically diagnosable mental disorders.
So who is paying for untreated mental illness?
While there are costs to both the public and private sectors, a high proportion (87.5 percent) are indirect costs to employers and individuals. Adults with untreated mental illness have a significantly higher rate of missed work days and unproductive work days, all of which cost employers $228.9 million annually in lost productivity.
Untreated mental illness also undermines an individual’s earning potential. Adults with untreated mental illness earn about $16,000 less per year, resulting in $273 million in unrealized annual earnings.
As someone who is concerned with reducing crime in Kansas City’s urban core, what struck me was the impact that untreated mental illness has on crime.
Those with severe mental illness are 10 times more likely to become incarcerated. The study states that more than 11,000 people with severe mental illness were incarcerated at least once in the last year. In Greater Kansas City, this results in annual costs of $8.2 million to the criminal justice system. There are proven interventions that promote recovery for people with serious mental illness. Yet nearly half of those with a serious mental illness receive treatment. For many, mental health care and supports remain fragmented, disconnected and inadequate, and we are all paying the costs.
In the face of financial pressures on our city, state and federal government, ensuring the needs of those suffering from severe mental illness are met can appear challenging. Yet the fiscal risks of not addressing these medical and social needs results in far greater costs and puts our society at risk. As a business community, providers, elected officials, educators, individuals, we need to work together to develop and fund strategies to provide early interventions and appropriate mental health treatment and supports.
Studies show many people live with a mental illness for more than 10 years before seeking treatment; therefore providing early interventions are critical. This includes ensuring that school-based mental health services receive needed funding and reimbursements. Stigma remains an obstacle for many to seek treatment. As a society, we need to treat those struggling with a mental illness just as we do someone living with diabetes. We also need to ensure community mental health centers and safety-net providers are adequately funded to provide treatment and case management. And we need to increase the availability of transitional housing.
Together, we can improve outcomes and save money in the short and long-term.
For more specific information on the cost of untreated mental illness in Missouri, Kansas and the greater Kansas City region and who pays for these costs, please visit http://hcfgkc.org/costs-untreated-mental-illness.
Bernard Franklin, Ph.D., of Kansas City, Kan., is special assistant to the vice president, Kansas State University and member of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City board of directors.