The current state of mental health care in the United States

Mental Health Care in the United StatesMental health conditions have always been difficult to address – not only does treatment require years of care, but people with mental disorders may not receive an accurate diagnosis for a long time. These people are then at the mercy of their conditions despite the prevalence of care options around them.

However, recent reports indicate that the majority of Americans live in areas that have poor infrastructure for mental health services. From per capita spending to methods of treatment, the current state of mental health care in the U.S. received a “D” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

What states spend
Though treating mental health means comprehensive treatments with psychiatrists and possibly an effective medication program, the whole process starts with funding. States that pay physicians for focusing on mental health will have more established infrastructures for patients to seek treatment, while states that skimp on care may be leaving their citizens to fend for themselves.

According to the NAMI report, not a single state received an “A” ranking for the level of mental health care it offers to its residents.

A key component of these grades was the money spent by states on mental health services. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the level of funding for treatment programs is wildly uneven across the U.S. Maine leads all states with $346.92 spent per capita.

The NAMI report also found that only 13 states offered an insurance plan that included moderate to full coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Some state governments have enacted compulsory insurance programs to cover all residents, but 34 states offer no such incentive.

These figures contribute to the fact that many state mental health departments are not funded enough to care for even a fraction of the people who need treatment. The NAMI report estimated that state mental health agencies serve about 27.9 percent of all adults who need help for serious mental illnesses. However, this number varies, too. Vermont serves less than 15 percent of its constituents in need, while New York managed to treat 55 percent of all residents.

Looking at states’ problems
Under-performing states may want to take a look at the practices of Maine and Oklahoma to improve their own response to mental health needs among residents. Unlike the rest of the country, Maine has increased its budget for treatments by 15 percent since 2009, and implemented a program to ease the transition of young offenders with mental illnesses back into society. Similarly, Oklahoma has worked with community centers to provide financial bonuses to places that teach people about healthy living strategies and proper nutrition – two areas typically overlooked by treatment services.

The future of state-level mental health agencies is still in flux with developments caused by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. With more young adults staying on their families’ insurance until 26 years old, mental health services may be less strained by a smaller population in need of care. Hopefully this will allow states to build up their treatment responses for effective care when it needs to be delivered.


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