healthHealth and Medicine

Study Reveals "Broken" US Mental Health Care System


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Anywhere between 8 and 43 million US adults have a mental health problem. Lolostock/Shutterstock

The state of health care in the US may arguably be improving – partly thanks to the imperfect addition of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and partly due to the deserved collapse of the catastrophic American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 – but it is still rife with problems. Mental health care, in particular, is in need of a considerable shot in the arm.

A new study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services, underscores this. US adults with mental illnesses are around 10 times more likely to be unable to purchase the medication or treatment they need due to spiraling costs.


The same people are also three times more likely to have delayed seeing clinical practitioners about their conditions compared to those without mental illnesses. Those that do see a doctor are far more likely to be uninsured. Overall, the researchers described the mental health care system in the US as “very broken.”

The team, led by the NYU Langone Medical Center, came to these conclusions after analyzing data from the National Health Interview Survey, an annual questionnaire run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in order to get a grasp on the health of the American population.

Based on 200,000 adults aged 18 to 64, surveyed between 2006 and 2014, 3.2 percent of adults in the US experienced serious psychological distress at least once per year. As the survey does not include institutionalized or homeless people, this 3.2 percent figure is likely a huge underestimation.

In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 17.9 percent of US adults have some sort of mental illness – that’s 43.4 million people – and that women are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from an ailment than men.


In any case, it’s fair to say that neither of the two major political parties in the US is paying enough attention to mental health. Although health care is theoretically available to the tens of millions of Americans that suffer from such conditions, only wealthier members of society can afford to get treatment.

The Democratic-forged ACA, however, did expand Medicaid, the social program for those with limited economic resources, ensuring millions more were insured. At present, it seems that almost 8 million people who use Medicaid have mental health issues, and 10.4 million have substance abuse problems. Trump's American Healthcare Reform Act would have denied these people coverage, so it’s a relief it failed.


Still, as this new study reveals, plenty of problems still persist. Costs are still too high, there aren’t enough mental health care providers, and mental health still has a powerful stigma adorning it. There needs to be more outreach, more funding, and more research.

Each year, 44,193 Americans kill themselves. Imagine how many may still be alive today if mental health care was in less of a sorry state.


[H/T: LiveScience]


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