Treating and providing support for people with mental illness totals to about $55 billion annually. This does not include other costs such as the cost of lost employment, decreased productivity, accidents, and government welfare programs, which combined cost $273 billion a year.
Surprisingly, the direct cost for not treating mental illness is estimated to be $70 billion a year, which is $20 billion more than when mental health is directly treated. This is because of a few factors. For example, those who have an untreated mental illness visit the emergency room more frequently to deal with medical problems. Costs for untreated mental health also include care by personal doctors who are often seen because of the physical symptoms that can occur with mental illness. Costly tests are then performed to diagnose symptoms. Left untreated, mental illness can also cause some already-present physical health conditions, such as asthma, to become more problematic. This requires even more visits to the doctor. If people with mental illness do not seek treatment, they are likely to underperform at their jobs. They may go to work, but their productivity is impaired and this can be a financial loss for employers.
In the long run, it is healthier and financially wiser to treat mental illness, so why doesn’t everyone get treated? There are about 50 million people a year who would benefit from treatment, but only about 10 million will actually seek help—a main reason being that many Americans cannot afford treatment. Costs for care can require up to 10% of an individual’s annual income, which for many is a financial burden they cannot handle.
Just take a look at treating bipolar disorder, one of the most common mental health issues in America. Treatment for an individual can cost up to $19,000 a year without insurance, but even with insurance you may still be required to pay up to $5,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. For this reason, it is important that the US continues to focus on making treatment available and affordable for everyone. As we’ve seen in recent years the tragic effects mental illness can have if left untreated, we as a nation cannot continue to witness the real cost of not finding a solution.
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