(BPT) – According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with mental illness. That’s over 43 million Americans — more than the populations of New York and Florida combined.
While the larger U.S. population is at risk for developing a mental illness in their lifetime, low-income Americans — including those on Medicaid — can be particularly vulnerable. According to a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), low levels of household income were associated with several lifetime mental disorders and suicide attempts. Further, the study found a reduction in household income was associated with an increased risk for incident mental disorders.
“Mental health conditions often involve a host of factors, including a person’s physical, social and economic circumstances, and disproportionately affect our nation’s most vulnerable populations,” said Dr. Mark Leenay, executive vice president and chief medical officer of WellCare Health Plans, Inc. “All stakeholders — from health, political and policy perspectives — need to consider the whole person and their surroundings to make inroads into successfully addressing our country’s mental health epidemic.”
According to WellCare, there are three critical factors to consider for improving overall mental health and well-being for all Americans:
* Take on Stigma. The nation continues to struggle with the stigma of mental health. It is only through open dialogue, empathy and education that we will begin to break down stigma and treat mental health as we would any other health condition.
* Address Access to Mental Healthcare and Substance Abuse Treatment. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year. African Americans and Hispanic Americans each use mental health services at about one-half the rate of whites. And, when it comes to substance abuse, the rates are even higher, with nearly 88 percent of people age 12 and older who identify as needing treatment not receiving it.
* Go Beyond Healthcare. It’s difficult to prioritize mental health treatment when you and your family don’t have a place to live or transportation to and from work, school or medical appointments. In fact, a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey revealed nearly 7 percent of people did not receive substance abuse treatment because they didn’t have transportation. By building connections between healthcare and social services, those barriers can be addressed. There are a number of social support services available in local communities to help with social and economic barriers to care.
The care teams at WellCare work one-on-one with members not only to coordinate their medical care, but to also help provide social support services, like assistance finding transportation to medical appointments, housing assistance and discharge planning, among others. This holistic approach is showing early signs of success, with an overall increase in the number of Medicaid members receiving residential treatment to address substance abuse, as well as increases in New Jersey, for example, in psychological services and reductions in inpatient admissions costs.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with housing, transportation, food or other social supports, WellCare may be able to help through its Community Connections Help Line, which connects callers with local support resources. For help, call 866-775-2192, where someone is available Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (local time).