Nearly Half of Americans With Severe Mental Illness Do Not Seek Treatment
Although effective treatment exists, nearly half of all Americans with a severe mental illness do not seek treatment for a variety of reasons, said US Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, when he released the First Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health. “Mental health is fundamental to a person’s overall health, indispensable to personal well being, and instrumental to leading a balanced and productive life,” he said.
The report estimated that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from with some form of mental disorder each year. Dr Satcher pointed out that diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, and eating disorders are real illnesses that can be as disabling as cancer and heart disease. These disorders contribute to premature death and lost productivity. Other common mental illnesses are manic-depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease. These diseases affect millions of Americans each year and contribute to a decreased quality of life.
The report defines mental illnesses and mental disorders as diagnosable conditions that impair thinking, feeling, and behavior and interfere with a person’s capacity to be productive and enjoy relationships. The term “mental health problem” refers to the presence of signs and symptoms that are not intense or long-lasting enough to meet the criteria for a mental disorder. However, severe or mild, long lasting or transitory, these conditions are disabling and painful.
Although ≈15 percent of the US adult population seeks mental health treatment each year, the mental health system is complex and fragmented, the report states. The system in itself can create barriers to care. Added to that are the financial barriers of cost—particularly with health plans that do not cover such treatment at the same rate as they do other illnesses. The “stigma” of naming a mental disease also prevents many from seeking care.
Dr Satcher noted that although mental disorders may affect all Americans, either directly or indirectly, all people do not have equal access to treatment and service. “We need to ensure that mental health services are as widely available as other services in the continuously changing health care delivery system.”
The report proposes actions that will improve the quality of mental health care in the nation. These include the following:
Continuing to build the science base
Overcoming the stigma of mental disease
Improving public awareness of effective treatment
Ensuring the supply of mental health services and providers as well as the delivery of state-of-the-art treatment
Tailoring treatment to sex, age, race, and culture
Making it easier to find the care that is needed and get access to it
Reducing the financial barriers to treatment
Those who want a copy of the report can call 1-877-9MHEALTH or write to Mental Health, Pueblo, Colorado for a summary of the report. A full copy of the report is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov
- Copyright © 2000 by American Heart Association