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The economics of mental illness

Mental health care may be one of the biggest unmet needs of our time.

Nearly one in two people in the United States will suffer from depression, anxiety disorders or another mental health ailment at some point in their life, and about one in 17 Americans currently has a serious mental illness.

Yet millions of people living with these conditions do not receive the care they require.

Mental illness strikes without regard for economic class, but the challenge is especially difficult for people with low incomes. Without access to affordable treatment, many have a hard time holding down a job yet do not qualify as formally disabled, thus leaving them locked out from insurance coverage.

This is a timely topic to discuss since May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

The human and economic toll is enormous yet often hidden. Untreated mental illnesses in the United States cost more than $100 billion a year in lost productivity, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Local hospitals and clinics must cope with associated chronic physical diseases. Schools have to open more special education classes. Courts and jails have to handle a large number of individuals who suffer from untreated mental illnesses. Suicide ranks among the top 15 most common killers in the United States (in the top three among young people), and 90 percent of cases can be attributed to mental illness.

In Maricopa County, we have one of the best mental health systems in the nation. And yet, there are still those who go without help, primarily because of eligibility requirements that shut them out, or because of budget cuts during the past difficult fiscal years.  That can change with Gov. Jan Brewer’s Medicaid Restoration Plan. It is right for Arizona — especially for those challenged with mental illness. The plan would reinstate services for thousands of Arizonans challenged with mental illness and ensure they receive the critical treatment they need to maintain recovery and give back to our community through work and community participation.

— Shawn Thiele is deputy CEO of Magellan of Arizona

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