Many with Mental Illness Go Untreated
People suffering from mental illnesses often do not recognize them for what they are. About 27 percent of those who seek medical care for physical problems actually suffer from troubled emotions.
Mental illnesses and substance abuse afflict both men and women. Studies by the U.S. Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration indicate men are more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse and personality disorders, while women are at higher risk of suffering from depression and anxiety disorders.
The personal and social costs that result from untreated mental disorders are considerable--similar to those for heart disease and cancer. According to estimates by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Institute of Medicine, the direct costs for support and medical treatment of mental illnesses total $55.4 billion a year; the direct costs of substance abuse disorders come to $11.4 billion a year; and indirect costs such as lost employment, reduced productivity, criminal activity, vehicular accidents and social welfare programs increase the total cost of mental and substance abuse disorders to more than $273 billion a year.
Emotional and mental disorders can be treated or controlled, but only one in five people who have these disorders seek help, and only four to 15 percent of the children suffering severe mental illnesses receive appropriate treatment. This unfortunate reality is further complicated by the fact that most health insurance policies provide limited mental health and substance abuse coverage, if any at all.
Medications relieve acute symptoms of schizophrenia in 80 percent of cases, but only about half of all people with schizophrenia seek treatment. Fewer than one-fourth of those suffering from anxiety disorders seek treatment, even though psychotherapy, behavior therapy and some medications effectively treat these illnesses. Fewer than one-third of those with depressive disorders seek treatment. Yet, with therapy, 80 to 90 percent of the people suffering from these diseases can get better.
Advances in Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Illness
Researchers have made tremendous progress in pinpointing the physical and psychological origins of mental illnesses and substance abuse.
- Scientists are now certain that some disorders are caused by imbalances in neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that carry messages between nerve cells. Studies have linked abnormal levels of these neurotransmitters with depression and schizophrenia.
- A special technology called positron emission tomography (PET) has allowed psychiatric medical researchers to "watch" the living brain's functioning. Researchers have used PET to show that the brains of people suffering from schizophrenia do not metabolize the sugar called glucose in the same way as the brains of healthy people. PET also helps physicians determine if a person suffers from schizophrenia or the manic phase of manic-depressive illness, which can have similar symptoms.
- Refinements of lithium carbonate, used in treating manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder, have led to an estimated annual savings of $8 billion in treatment costs and lost productivity associated with bipolar disorder.
- Medications are helpful in treating and preventing panic attacks among patients suffering severe anxiety disorders. Studies also indicate that panic disorders could be caused by some underlying physical, biochemical imbalance.
- Studies of psychotherapy by the National Institute of Mental Health have shown it to be very effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression.
- Scientists are beginning to understand the biochemical reactions in the brain that induce the severe craving experienced by cocaine users. Through this knowledge, new medications may be developed to break the cycle of cocaine craving and use.
Although these findings require continued research, they offer hope that many mental disorders may one day be prevented.
continue: Depression: Common and Serious