Untreated Mental Illnesses: The Causes and Effects

Untreated Mental Illnesses: The Causes and Effects

By Milena Bimpong

Lawrence High School

People view taking time off from school or work because of the flu or a broken bone as perfectly acceptable, but taking time off because of stress from a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, unfortunately, is not. People usually believe that someone who takes time off from school or work because of a physical illness needs the time to recover quickly. However, when someone does the same for a mental illness, they are usually told that they are “lazy” or that the problem is “all inside their head.” Why is this the case?

Physical health and mental health are equally important. However, people with mental illnesses are sadly stereotyped and looked down upon by society. The stigma of mental illnesses, along with several other factors, result in high percentages of untreated mental illnesses in both the United States and across the world. Although, there are several solutions that can improve this problem, and the analysis of the reasons why some people with mental illnesses do not seek treatment/lack access to treatment and the various effects of untreated mental illnesses can help to develop these solutions.

Untreated mental illnesses are a growing concern in the United States. In the United States, about 43.8 billion adults have a mental illness – this is equal to 1 in 5 adults. And among these adults, 60% were left untreated in 2011, according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Also, this source claimed that 40% of adults with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder did not receive treatment. Untreated mental illnesses do not only affect adults but children as well. Approximately 17 million children in the US have or have had a mental illness, but most are not treated. According to the Children’s Mental Health Report by the Child Mind Institute, 80% of children with anxiety are not receiving treatment, along with 40% of children with diagnosable ADHD/ADD and 60% of children with diagnosable depression. Untreated mental illnesses have a severe impact on the nation’s economy. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), untreated mental illnesses cost about $100 billion a year in lost productivity. Along with many other countries, the United States has a high population of both children and adults with untreated mental illnesses.

Untreated mental illnesses are also becoming increasingly common across the globe. Worldwide, about 450 million people have a mental illness – this is equal to 1 in 4 people. Most of these people, about 400 million, are not receiving the treatment that they need. According to the World Health Organization in 2002, 154 million people had depression and 25 million had schizophrenia. The World Health Organization later stated in 2009 that 50 million had epilepsy, and 24 million had Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The number of people with untreated mental illnesses also depends on the country’s economy. According to Clubhouse International, 76 to 85% of serious mental illness cases went untreated in developing countries. However, this source claims that only 35 to 50% of mental illness cases went untreated in developed countries. Mental illnesses remarkably impact the global economy, costing about $2.5 trillion per year. Untreated mental illnesses are a public health concern worldwide, and it is not limited to the United States.

In order to discuss this public health concern, it is crucial to realize why some people with mental illnesses lack access to treatment, or why they do not seek treatment. One main reason that can decide whether someone with a mental illness has access to treatment is their socioeconomic status. Some cannot afford the medical costs, which is why they might avoid seeking treatment. The stigma of mental illness also prevents people from seeking treatment, as it is sometimes associated with shame and embarrassment.

There are other reasons as well, such as people simply having busy schedules and not taking the time to acknowledge their mental health. However, it is very important to make mental health a top priority, because leaving a mental illness untreated can have extremely negative effects on the person. Some specific examples of these direct and indirect effects are the condition worsening over time, physical health issues, financial problems, lack of job stability, prison, being taken advantage of by others, and suicide. According to Clubhouse International, mental illnesses are the cause of about 90% of suicides.

There are several solutions that would help to substantially decrease the number of people with mental illnesses who are left untreated. Firstly, it is important for low-income families to have access to health care. This will allow for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. Also, it is important to change the view mental illnesses in society. Acceptance of mental illnesses will encourage people to seek help without feeling ashamed. Lastly, it is necessary to take the time to talk to someone about these issues before the situation becomes worse. Explaining your feelings to a family member or friend is comforting, and receiving professional help will eventually be the next step. Despite the increasing number of current untreated mental illnesses, noteworthy developments in mental health treatment can give a positive outlook in the years to come.

To end, there are multiple economic and social factors that cause the high number of untreated mental illnesses in the United States and worldwide. Many mental illnesses are left untreated due to the amount of money that it costs to seek medical help, and because of the way that society resentfully views people with mental illnesses. Although there have been many improvements throughout the years, there is still a lot of work for the years ahead. There is still hope for the future, even if it may take an incredibly long time.



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