Paying the Price for Untreated Mental Illness

With one in 10 adults suffering from a serious mental illness in any given year, mental illness touches many families in our region. And although these illnesses can be effectively treated, sadly many cases are untreated.

Without treatment, adults living with mental illness are rarely able to secure employment, maintain adequate housing and live a quality, productive life. Families, businesses, health providers and state and county governments are forced to pay millions of dollars in costs of untreated mental illness through emergency medical care, long-term nursing home care, unemployment, loss of productivity, law enforcement, etc.

The economic cost of untreated mental illness is staggering. According to an economic model recently released by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the costs to the metropolitan Kansas City area of untreated mental illness totals more than $624 million per year. A high proportion (87.5%) of these costs is in the form of indirect costs to employers and individuals due to unrealized earnings and lost productivity.

What struck me when reviewing the data from this economic model was the impact that untreated mental illness has on crime in the urban core. Those with severe mental illness are 10 times more likely to become incarcerated compared to the general population. The model suggests that more than 11,000 people with severe mental illness were incarcerated at least once in the past year. In Greater Kansas City, these incarcerations resulted in annual costs of $8.2 million to the criminal justice system.

There are proven interventions that can promote recovery for people with serious mental illness, that can decrease these costs of untreated mental illness and decrease the amount of crime in our community. Yet despite these advances, nearly half of all people with a serious mental illness do not get the treatment they need.

For too many people living in our community, mental health care and supports remain fragmented, disconnected and inadequate, and we are all paying the costs. In the face of financial pressures on our city, state and federal government, ensuring the needs of those suffering from severe mental illness are met can appear challenging. Yet the fiscal risks of not addressing the medical and social needs of people with mental illness can result in greater financial costs and can ultimately put individuals and our society at risk.

As a business community, as health care providers, as elected officials, as educators, as individuals, we need to work together to develop strategies to provide early interventions and appropriate mental health treatment to improve patient outcomes and save money in the short and long-term.

For more specific information on the cost of untreated mental illness in Missouri, Kansas and the greater Kansas City region and who pays for these costs, please visit

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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at


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