Mental health is an increasingly important topic, with approximately 1 in 5 Americans experiencing mental illness in a given year. Unfortunately, these conditions often go untreated, either because of stigma or embarrassment in seeking treatment or due to a lack of accessible, affordable mental health services. Left untreated, mental health concerns can often worsen. This drastically influences the quality of life for affected individuals; untreated mental health concerns can lead to the development of physical health issues, decrease the quality of interpersonal relationships and increase the likelihood of developing negative coping behaviors like substance misuse or other addictions. There is also high economic cost associated with untreated mental illness, as untreated individuals will often seek care in the emergency room or through inpatient hospitalization, which is much more expensive than seeking proper treatment through primary care or a mental health provider; nationally, 5% of emergency room visits are primarily for mental illness or substance misuse. According to national estimates, general hospitals will spend $38.5 billion dollars in 2018 caring for these patients, compared to $20.3 billion in 2003. Treatment received within hospitals is short term, and not an appropriate solution for addressing mental illness and/or substance use, which is often a chronic, long-lasting challenge. It’s therefore incredibly important to identify and support those that are at greatest risk of experiencing mental health concerns, as well as those that experience the greatest barriers to receiving care.
People that are most likely to impacted by poor mental health or mental illness are often members of the most vulnerable populations. Underserved communities that experience barriers to good health are often at greater risk of developing poor mental health or mental illness. For example, individuals living below the poverty level are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression. The elderly are also more likely to have mental or behavioral health conditions. Underserved populations often have less access to mental health services. For example, ethnic minorities are just as likely to develop mental health conditions as non-Hispanic whites but are substantially less likely to receive treatment. And for those living in rural locations, there is significantly less access to mental health providers.