New report examines the startling highs – and lows – of mental health treatment in America

By Stacy M. Brown,
NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The District of Columbia counts among the top 10 states with the best mental health, or the combination of the lowest prevalence of mental illness and greater access to care, according to Mental Health America’s annual “State of Mental Health in America” report.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and Maryland round out the top 10.

The states at the lower end of the ranking have higher prevalence rates and less access to care. Those states include: Kansas, Indiana, Texas, Oregon, Arizona, Idaho and Nevada.

“This year, again, the evidence is clear regarding the urgent crisis we face in American mental health,” Schroeder Stribling, president and CEO of MHA, said in a statement. He added, “From high numbers of our youth who are contemplating suicide to an increase in substance use, to widespread difficulty in accessing the care they seek, Americans are experiencing high rates of distress and frequent challenges in getting help.”

Stribling said Mental Health America has continued to work to address and reverse the numbers, including advocating for improvements to policy and practice that reach people where they are – at the right time, with the right help.

“Everyone deserves access to the care they need and the opportunity to live a flourishing life of recovery,” Stribling said.

MHA found that 55% of the over 50 million Americans experiencing a mental illness received no treatment, with access and cost as the primary reasons.

Most of those who indicated they could not access needed mental health treatment reported that they could not afford care, MHA researchers found. Additionally, many did not know where to get services, thought they could handle their mental health without treatment, didn’t have time, or their health insurance did not pay enough for mental health treatments.

Researchers added that 11% of adults with a mental illness are uninsured, and 1 in 10 youth with private insurance do not have coverage for mental health treatments.

“Our country has a known shortage of mental health providers – one provider for every 350 individuals – and barriers such as lack of insurance or insurance not covering enough of the cost of mental health care compound the lack of access for those needing help, with clear geographic and racial disparities,” said Maddy Reinert, senior director of population health at MHA.

“We cannot expect mental health to improve in the U.S. if individuals in need are unable to access the kinds of care that they want.”

In an effort for more mental health support, D.C. council member Robert White introduced the District’s Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act of 2022, which would allow students to pursue a master’s degree in social work free of charge at the University of the District of Columbia.

White’s bill, which has eight co-sponsors on the 13-member council, would allow eligible applicants with bachelor’s degrees to obtain scholarships that cover tuition and books. It also provides students with a monthly stipend to cover living expenses and transportation.

“When the pandemic started, I heard from so many people who felt like they needed mental health professionals, and they couldn’t find it, and what we realized is that we have a pipeline problem,” White stated.

In releasing its annual report, MHA said it aims to provide a snapshot of mental health among youth and adults for policy and program planning, analysis, and evaluation.

Further, officials want to track changes in the prevalence of mental health issues and access to mental health care, understand how changes in national data reflect the impact of legislation and policies, and increase dialogue with and improve outcomes for individuals and families with mental health needs.

“Everyone deserves access to the care they need and the opportunity to live a flourishing life of recovery,” Stribling said.

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