What’s the True Cost of Untreated Mental Illness?

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. During this time of year, mental health advocates use this opportunity to educate about the symptoms of major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other conditions. It also is an opportunity to have conversations about mental health care, helping to end the silence that often exists.

While it is nice to take a week to focus on this work, mental illness is in the hearts and minds of affected families every day. One out of every 10 people in the Kansas City metro area is affected by a serious mental health issue that ranges from temporary, to permanent and life limiting.

Unfortunately, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.

Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for successful management of an illness and recovery. Yet only one-third of adults and less than one-half of children with mental illness receive treatment.

One reason for the delay in treatment is that symptoms may not be immediately recognized. Another is that stigma—and silence—surrounding mental illness discourages many people from seeking help. Still another is lack of access to mental health care.

The hidden effects of mental illness on work attendance and performance, the ability to be a thoughtful and patient parent, engagement in the community and decreased life expectancy are ones that get much less attention.

We recently released an updated version of our Cost of Untreated Mental Illness report. It contains a tool that allows you to calculate the costs of untreated mental illness for your organization or business.

Overall, the cost burden of untreated serious mental illness (SMI) to Greater Kansas City is estimated to be $624 million per year. A high proportion, 87.5 percent, of these costs is in the form of indirect costs to employers and individuals.

Others who bear the cost of untreated mental illness are:

  • Local governments with more than $59.6 million per year and the federal government, $58.7 million per year.
  • Private sector, including employers, with about $228.9 million per year.
  • Unrealized earnings for individuals due to unemployment, disability, institutionalization, or suicide amount to approximately $275.2 million annually.

Spending money involves difficult choices, but when it comes to mental health care, this tool shows that lack of coverage too often results in greater costs to businesses, hospital emergency rooms, schools, police, jails, and tragically, broken families.

Treatment works, but only if a person can get it. We hope that during this week you’ll take a look at the Cost of Untreated Mental Illness report. You can also view infographics for in Kansas and Missouri counties in our service area, by visiting our Pinterest page.

Dialogue must ultimately turn into action. But education comes first. The more people know about mental illness, the better they can help themselves, their families and communities to get the help they need.


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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 jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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