By Dr. Chad Lemaire, Psychiatrist and Legacy Behavioral Health Medical Director
Mental illness is quite common: One in five adults in America experience a mental illness. And nearly one in 25, or more than 10 million American adults, live with a serious mental illness. Thankfully, much progress has been made in decreasing stigma in recent years; many who previously were not willing to seek help for their struggles now are.
However, many are still not getting treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 60 percent of adults with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year, and the average delay between onset of mental health symptoms and intervention is eight to 10 years. Studies show that up to two-thirds of adults and children that have a diagnosable mental illness are not receiving treatment.
While stigma continues to be a significant part of the reason for these statistics, a lack of access to mental health care is certainly another. In recent years, Texas has ranked 48th or 49th in the nation for the amount it spends per person for mental health care.
Regarding psychiatrists, there is a national crisis brewing: Nearly 60 percent of the psychiatrists in the nation are older than 55 years, and close to retirement. It is likely that the number of psychiatrists leaving the profession will be greater than the number of residents finishing their training — this coming at a time when the population is growing and demand for services is increasing.
In Texas, we have an even greater shortage. According to the American Medical Association, Texas has roughly 5.5 percent of the nation’s psychiatrists but 8.5 percent of the total population, giving us 5.7 psychiatrists per 100,000 people; below the national average of 8.9 percent per 100,000 people. Many experts believe that even the national average is well below what is needed. Some have called this a public health crisis.
These challenges have led to increased efforts in the last decade to integrate care, often utilizing psychologists and therapists working alongside primary care doctors to help provide team-based care to those with mental health needs. At Legacy, we are working out ways to best deliver this integrated care with our primary care and behavioral health teams. Fortunately, over the last several years we have grown these teams dramatically to increase access to care for the communities we serve. This growth has included placing therapists in our school-based clinics at KIPP and YES Prep schools to meet children’s behavioral health needs, as early as possible.
At the same time, we look forward to ongoing efforts to increase funding for mental health care. A 2016 study by the World Health Organization noted that improving mental health care can have a huge economic payoff. For every dollar invested in treatment programs for depression and anxiety, those programs would return $3 to $5 in economic contributions and years of healthy life.
At Legacy, we believe that access to great health care, including mental health care, is a human right, and we continue to work to improve access for those who so desperately need it. The numbers don’t lie.
This article was originally published on the Legacy Blog on September 15, 2016 as Mental Health Awareness, Stigma, and Access. It was updated on November 27, 2017.