Social and Economic Impact of Mental Illness

A new survey sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness examines the social and economic impact of depression. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports researchers want the public to understand the consequences of lack of access to health care for mental illness.

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The study found that those suffering from mental health illness tend to have financial problems and relationship problems. Officials with the National Alliance on Mental Illness say the problems are made worse because of lack of access to care. Texas ranks 38th in the number of psychiatrists per 100,000 people and 45th in social workers. Houston state Representative Garnett Coleman authored a limited parity bill for Texas. He says Texas still has a long way to go to improve mental illness coverage.

"If a person is sick, the best way to get well is to have access to a health care provider. And access to a health care provider comes more easily if you have an insurance card in your pocket that actually covers the illness that you have."

But Coleman says adding to the problem is the high number of uninsured in the state. Alice Clark did have health insurance until she lost her job because of depression.

"I'd never had any physical problems and all of a sudden I ended up in a county hospital as an indigent patient. This is a person who just months before had a great house, car, kids, money and insurance and everything."

It would be another six years before she was diagnosed with depression and began proper treatment that allowed her to rebuild her life. While Clark did not have a secondary illness, the majority of patients suffer from two disorders. Psychiatrist Rahn Bailey says 70 percent of those with depression also have an anxiety disorder. He says only one in five get treated for both. Bailey sees this as a national disgrace.

"It would be as simple as if you had a person walk into your office and they had hypertension and diabetes and for some reason you could diagnose or treat only one of those two. That person might get better, but they will not get well."

Bailey says more public education is needed. He also points out that the science and treatment for mental health is sound. That's not the struggle.

"The struggle that I have very often is can I get the science and the information I have access to and the medicines that may work for that individual or the recommendation of therapy to the person who is in front of me. Do they have the right Medicaid or Medicare or insurance card? Are they going to have access to receive those services? Are there going to be a variety of blocks or obstacles that are artificially going to be put in their way?"

The survey was conducted on-line in five states. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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