Inform Article

The Mental Health Epidemic

12.04.2010
Posted by Pam Gionfriddo of Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County

There is an epidemic of mental illness in America.  It's time policy leaders did something about it.

They could start by acknowledging just how widespread this epidemic is.  According to the National Institute on Mental Health, it affects one-fourth of our population - over 57 million adults and over 15 million children nationally, and over 260,000 people in Palm Beach County alone. 

 

Why are the numbers so staggering?

No one knows for sure, but serious mental illness has devastating consequences.

Homelessness and incarceration are two of them.  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 25% of homeless people have severe mental illness, and up to 85% of our jail inmates have mental illness. 

Policy leaders need to take this epidemic seriously.

First, they need to do more to identify and treat serious mental illness in children.  The Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County advocates adding periodic mental health screening to pediatric care for all children, to identify and treat mental illness in children at the earliest possible age.  

Second, they need to decriminalize mental illness.  

Third, they need to create an emergency mental health response system that looks more like the rest of our emergency response system.  County emergency mental health services systems should be staffed by mental health professionals, and insurance should cover the cost. 

Fourth, they need to rebuild our safety net system of care for people with mental illness.   Then policy leaders should integrate safety net health and mental health care.

For more analysis of these options, visit Our Health Policy Matters.