If you do a simple Google search, an avalanche of statistics about the state of mental illness in America are at your disposal. I could write a complete blog post just listing all the statistics about the mental illness crisis in America.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness.
- 10 million adults live with a serious mental illness.
- 1 in 100 (2.4 million) American adults live with schizophrenia.
- 6% (6.1 million) American adults live with bipolar disorder.
- 16 million American adults live with major depression.
- 42 million American adults live with an anxiety disorder.
- 1 in 5 children between the ages of 13 – 18 have or will have a serious mental illness.
- 11% of youth have a mood disorder.
- 10% of youth have a behavior disorder or conduct disorder.
- 8% of youth have an anxiety disorder.
When you look at mental illness by the numbers, it is a problem of epidemic size proportions. The numbers are staggering, but perhaps the most alarming number of all is the one statistic not on record: how many people who don’t seek treatment for mental illness at all. I think if it was possible to get an accurate statistic on the percentage of people living with mental illness who have never sought treatment, the enormity of the percentage would astound us.
As someone who navigates mental illness successfully, I can’t fathom why anyone with mental illness would not seek treatment. I struggle to imagine why someone would rather be sick than well. But then I must remember how short-sighted that opinion is and what my life was like before I was diagnosed—the way I felt and my frame of reference.
Looking at it from that point of view forces me to reevaluate my attitude toward the mentally ill who never seek treatment. It forces me to look at it from their angle.
Here are three reasons the mentally ill never seek treatment:
1. They don’t realize they have a mental illness.
Before I was diagnosed—first with depression and later with bipolar disorder—I did not know I was living with mental illness. Sure, I knew I was sensitive and high-strung, but I just thought that was who I was.
I wasn’t looking for symptoms, so I didn’t find any. In my mind, all the behaviors that checked off the boxes of the bipolar disorder symptom list were my personal idiosyncrasies and character defects.
I knew something was wrong but only in broad strokes. I found ways to cope with what I now know were symptoms. It is amazing what you can learn to live with if you don’t have a choice or don’t know there is a problem with a solution.
If a person does not make the connection between their personal behavior and mental illness, they can suffer their entire life without ever knowing better. It is heartbreaking because most mental illnesses are highly treatable.
2. They don’t want to be labeled mentally ill because of the stigma attached to it.
It blows my mind that it is 2020, and we are still having a conversation about the stigma attached to mental illness. It is because of that stigma that I launched my blog.
Like so many others, I believe that we need to bring mental illness out of the darkness and shine a light on it. I think if there was more awareness about the truth of mental illness—and those who live with it—it would create a better understanding.
It is easy to look down on something you don’t understand, especially with so many stereotypical depictions of the mentally ill on the news. The only time we hear about mental illness is when someone famous dies by suicide or when a horrific crime is perpetrated by someone with untreated (or poorly treated) mental illness.
Is it any wonder that someone who thinks they may have a mental illness would bury their head in the sand for years, if not for their entire life?
Until people realize that having a mental illness is no different than having diabetes or heart disease, there will continue to be a huge cross-section of the population who never seek treatment for their mental health condition.
3. They have inadequate insurance or no insurance at all.
Although mental illness is highly treatable, it comes at a price. Unfortunately, the price tag is high and insurance coverage is low.
To have insurance, a person must be able to hold down a job which is a problem for those who have untreated or poorly treated mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Serious mental illness causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year.”
Psychiatric medication is expensive, so even if a person has insurance, it may not completely cover the cost. Insurance notoriously under covers mental health related services, which makes it cost prohibitive for many to pursue the care of a psychiatrist, therapist and proper medication.
When I walked through the most debilitating season of my mental illness, the only care available for me was at a local state-funded hospital. And while I am grateful for the care I received—care that I so desperately needed—it was inadequate, and I was over-medicated.
It was only when I was classified disabled and received Medicare benefits, that I could find the psychiatrist who has helped me have a better quality of life.
The only way those with untreated mental illness will ever seek treatment is if the status quo changes. We must be intentional in sharing the symptoms of mental illness in the context of how they present in someone’s day-to-day life.
We must also create an ongoing conversation about mental illness, so people won’t fear being labeled and stigmatized if they seek treatment. We must demystify and humanize mental illness, so people realize the mentally ill are just like everyone else—they are just wired differently.
We must fix the mental health care system, so that great care is available for those at all socioeconomic levels. Receiving proper treatment for mental illness must become as normal as treating diabetes or heart disease.
None of these are minor changes that will happen overnight. We must all stand up and do our part to affect change. The voice of one is easily ignored, but when the voices of many rise up, they have the power to resonate with the world at large and cause change.