1 out of every 5 adult Americans experiences a mental illness each year, and 1 in 25 experience a serious mental illness. American youth (aged 13-18) are even more severely affected, with 1 in 5 dealing with a serious mental illness at some point in their life.1 The epidemic of mental illness in America is real, and our system is failing to support the people who are suffering. People with a mental health condition are disproportionately represented among homeless and incarcerated individuals, with 46% of homeless adults living with a severe mental illness and/or substance use disorder, approximately 20% of state and local jail prisoners being recorded to have a recent history of mental illness, and 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems experiencing at least one mental health condition.2
It is critical for people experiencing mental illness to receive treatment, yet the majority of Americans do not receive the help they need. Only 41% of adults and 50.6% of children with a mental health condition received mental health services in the previous year. The consequences of not receiving timely and effective treatment are serious, as half of all chronic mental illnesses begin by age 14 and three-quarters begin by age 24. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10-34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in America, and over 90% of people who die by suicide have symptoms of a mental health condition.3 Mental health also directly affects physical health. Individuals living with a serious mental illness have a higher risk of having a chronic medical condition, and on average die 25 years earlier--largely due to treatable medical conditions.4
There are many changes that need to be made in order to help people dealing with mental illness in America. Many Americans continue to lack access to mental health services, and it is of the utmost importance that people are able to be treated in a timely, effective, and affordable manner. In order to make this happen, mental health services should be integrated with general health care, and public and private health plans must afford people access to mental health services at parity with other health services. Improving current mental health services is also vital. Services should focus on providing evidence-based treatment that is tailored to the individual, supporting individuals in all stages of their treatment and recovery process, and allowing individuals to make informed decisions about their treatment plan. Providers of mental health services also need to tailor their services to best serve their community, such as providing linguistically competent service.5
There also needs to be reforms made to the criminal justice system in order to prevent people dealing with a mental health condition from being incarcerated in the first place, and support those who have been incarcerated. Providing people with community-based services and alternatives to incarceration, teaching law enforcement de-escalation tools for crisis scenarios, and promoting early intervention and maximum diversion are all ways that we can help keep people with mental illness out of the criminal justice system. For those who are incarcerated, we must ensure that they have access to mental health services and professionals and receive the same level of timely and effective treatment as those who are not incarcerated. Helping formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into their community is also important in ensuring that they can stay out of the criminal justice system.6 Simply Virtuous supports the Treatment Advocacy Center in their work to keep individuals with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and instead guide them towards treatment.
The mental health crisis in America needs to be addressed immediately and effectively. Every year, America loses $193.2 billion in earnings due to serious mental illness.7 Simply Virtuous supports organizations that are fighting to improve the lives of people dealing with mental illness through education, advocacy, support, and generating awareness. The information provided in this article comes from two Simply Virtuous supported charities who focus on this goal: the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America. To learn more about these organizations, the Treatment Advocacy Center, and other nonprofits working on the issue of serious mental illness, or to donate to this cause, follow this link.