June 10, 2022
By Dr. Delasalas, MD on June 27, 2022
It’s past time to sound the alarm on mental illness in America. Prevalence of illness is up, average ages of those affected are down and affordable access to treatment remains inadequate. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, there were an estimated 52.9 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with AMI (any mental illness). That’s a little over 2 in 10 U.S. adults.
The statistics around our youth are even more alarming. Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of any mental illness (30.6%). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. Up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. report having mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorders.
This mental health crisis in our youth didn’t happen overnight - it’s been building. Over the past decade, the share of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased to more than 1 in 3 students, and between 2007 and 2018, the suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57%. Enter the pandemic, and early estimates show more than 6,600 suicide deaths among this age group in 2020.
To add insult to injury, the costs associated with mental illness are devastating our country. Take depression as an example, the economic impact of depression is upwards of $210 billion annually in the U.S. when you include direct health care costs, lost productivity and early death from suicide. Sadly, 1 in 5 working age adults lives with a mental health condition, but more than 60% do not receive treatment.
Why do so many go without treatment? At the root of the unmet need is a lack of affordable, accessible mental healthcare. According to the 2022 State of Mental Health in America report, 11.1% of Americans with a mental illness are uninsured. It’s the second year in a row that this indicator increased since the passage of The Affordable Care Act. The treatment and coverage gaps are just as bad if not worse for our youth. According to the same report over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment and 8.1% of children have private insurance that does not cover mental health services.
Employers, health plans and other key stakeholders can all play roles in improving access to mental health and substance use care. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of blaming others and overcomplicating how we help. While we could waste time waiting on perfected regulations and seamless payment systems, we know that won’t happen fast enough. Instead, we must own our stake in the outcome and take bold actions.
One way to take immediate action is by building collaborative partnerships that expand on solutions we’ve already successfully tested.
For example, Nomi Health has committed to covering the cost of $1 million in therapy and mental health services for frontline healthcare workers who live in states where we have a strong presence including Florida, Texas, and Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, and Nebraska.
In these states, we’re partnering with Tava Health, the online mental health platform our own employees already use (and love). Tava provides free, online therapy at flexible hours, all benefits we know are well suited for the intense schedules of frontline healthcare workers.
In another example we’re using our partnership to step up during moments of intense need. Immediately following the tragedy in one of our communities, Uvalde Texas, we’ve offered to cover the cost of mental health counseling via the Tava platform for all employees of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District and any healthcare worker in Uvalde – no strings attached.
America cannot afford to wait for perfect regulations and simplified coding and payment systems - that fix will never keep pace with the crisis at hand. It’s time to get creative, step up and intervene with solutions that make sense at the ground level.