For those reeling from untreated mental ailments, ongoing psychological anguish and abuse of drugs often come hand in hand. However, change may be on the horizon for some people. A new report shows that more Americans are receiving mental health care treatment and curbing their use of illicit substances.
The National Behavioral Health Barometer, prepared by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), reports a seven percentage point increase in the number of people with a mental illness receiving treatment. Plus, according to the report, binge drinking and use of marijuana and prescription painkillers — often indicators of unresolved mental health issues — declined among adolescents. More people also sought drug abuse treatment within the same time frame, an occurrence that researchers said significantly decreased substance abuse among adolescents.
Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA’s administrator, said that the data in tandem with new research developments could be used to further study the mental health landscape and fill gaps in treatment across the nation.
“This array of indicators provides a unique overview of the nation’s behavioral health at a point in time as well as a mechanism for tracking change and trends over time,” Hyde wrote in the report’s introduction. “As new data becomes available, indicators highlighted in these reports will be updated to reflect the current state of the science and incorporate new measures of interest.”
In recent years, attention has turned to the relationship between mental illness and drug abuse, especially when it comes to 20 percent of inmates in prisons across the country suffering from a psychological disorder. Today, more than 8 million adults in the United States concurrently have an anxiety disorder and substance abuse problem, according to data compiled by the National Institutes of Health. If left untreated, the long-term effects of tobacco and substance abuse will ultimately shorten the lives of people in that group.
Connecting people with treatment that mitigates both issues, however, has proven to be a huge undertaking. In 2012, less than 8 percent of that population received treatment for their mental health and substance abuse problems. More than half went without therapy. Statistics that show an overall decline in smoking and drug abuse among women and adolescents often don’t reflect the uptick in misuse among subpopulations that suffer from mental ailments, especially women and adolescents.
“For many years the public and private treatment communities have wrestled with the dual-disorder problem; most often denying treatment for the individual with the dual disorder because the ‘substance abuse problem came before the mental illness diagnosis…’ or other inane excuses,” Dr. Ralph E. Jones, author and addiction specialist, wrote in the Valley Morning Star earlier this week.
“We must sort out and untangle whether the mental health problems are driving the addiction, or the use of substance is causing symptoms that look like a mental health problems in its own right, or both. I have always had the contention that it makes no difference, we just need to treat these individuals now for both conditions,” Jones added.
That’s why lawmakers and mental health professionals have tried to break down barriers to mental health treatment — including stigma, questions about what merits proper intervention, and the dearth of mental health care practitioners. A provision of the Affordable Care Act that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans, for example, has spurred use of mental health services among Millennials between the ages of 18 and 25.
Prisons officials in California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania have also recently taken steps to better accommodate inmates with psychological problems. For veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Congress may be well on its way to passing legislation that aims to prevent suicides connect them with special services.
But health care providers in some parts of the country still have a long way to go. A Mental Health America report released earlier this month designated Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada, and Washington as the lowest ranking states for access to care. And as more people seek treatment for their mental illness, questions arise about how clinics can best meet this growing demand. This particular issue came into the light earlier this month when nearly 2,600 mental health care workers in California went on strike to highlight what they considered Kaiser Permanente’s failure to hire more psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers.