Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Guest Post: What Happens When Mental Health Care Is Unavailable?

Adam Lanza, Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooter

Today’s guest post is by Audrey Willis.

It's a sad fact that mental health care in the United States is becoming increasingly unattainable.

From 2009 to 2012 the mental health care industry saw a $5 billion drop in funds across the country, primarily stemming from national budget cuts. While one in four adults---nearly 62 million individuals--experiences some type of mental illness in a given year, a staggering 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds were eliminated during the same period. New York, Kentucky, California, and Illinois were among the top cutting states. Additionally, 13 states closed at least 25 percent of their state hospital beds. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a steep increase in patients visiting emergency rooms across the country in search of mental health care assistance. States that closed the highest number of mental health care beds also experienced an increase in violent crime over the same time period.

Aside from these budget cuts, there is another concerning issue, as the global mental health care industry is experiencing a shortage in working professionals. Globally, nearly one in ten people has a mental health issue. Who will take care of these people if only one percent of the universal health care workforce is dedicated to mental health?

Some real life examples may help to illustrate the serious nature of this ongoing issue:

-A 19 year old from New Hampshire recently spent 10 days in the common area of a Maine emergency room waiting for a bed to open in the mental health facility.

-A man who allegedly stole the equivalent of $5 in snacks died in jail as he waited for space to open up in a mental health center.

-A woman visited an Illinois emergency room 750 times over the course of 10 years searching for mental health assistance. The cost was a sobering $2.5 million.

These are problems that could be easily eliminated by integrating mental health care professionals into the emergency room staff of every major hospital.

With examples like this, it is easy to see why deep budget cuts have negatively impacted the quality of treatment for those who suffer from chronic mental illness. A recent heartbreaking report from the Treatment Advocacy Center found that at least one in four fatal police encounters involved the death of an individual suffering from a severe mental illness.

Individuals suffering from various mental illnesses who do not receive proper treatment often find themselves in the country's criminal justice system. Aside from the very real concern that these people will fail to recover without treatment, this also results in a significantly higher cost to taxpayers and makes for a more dangerous landscape, both for patients and law enforcement professionals.

While a tragic event can often increase public attention to mental health needs, the passion is rarely sustained after the news media cameras stop rolling.

A solution to this healthcare problem is to staff hospitals with mental health professionals, and find a way to open additional beds in treatment facilities---places that are specially trained on how to handle the vast spectrum of mental illness. Until that occurs, tragedies, much like the gut wrenching 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting---that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults---may continue to happen. The perpetrator of this specific incident is known to have suffered from various mental illnesses, and was not able to obtain successful help.

Here is an infographic from the Cummings Institute ( that goes into more detail. Please Zoom in to see:

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