Shining a Spotlight on Mental Illness

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1 in 4 American adults have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, yet many know very little about the disease.

PhRMA StaffSeptember 22, 2014

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 1 in 4 American adults have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, yet many know very little about the disease. However, the recent sad and untimely deaths of actor and comedian Robin Williams, and Gus Deeds, son of Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, may be changing this trend, while shining a spotlight on this very serious issue.

For many Americans suffering from a mental illness, there can be several barriers to appropriate care. Asking for help can be frightening or embarrassing, and at times, cost and coverage can be a major hurdle. A recent survey of 1,402 California adults conducted on behalf of the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF) found that more than 80 percent of insured Californians said they believed mental health treatments help people lead more productive lives; yet, according to the findings:

  • Less than 40 percent of Californians knew that health insurers are legally required to cover those services.
  • 30 percent of those surveyed said they didn't know whether their own health plan covered treatments for conditions such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
  • 1 in 10 believed mental health services were not covered.

However, lack of awareness is not the only problem. According to the survey, nearly 20 percent reported they would be unlikely to take advantage of mental health services, even knowing the care is covered by insurance and poses no other financial burden. This reluctance to acknowledge a personal need for mental health services may speak to the stigma still attached to mental illnesses and available treatments.

The CHCF study comes on the heels of PhRMA’s Second Annual National Health Survey, which found an alarming 56 percent of those with mental health problems say they do not receive regular treatment or see a doctor regularly. Yet, a large majority (75 percent) report they take prescription medicine – a frightening disconnect between prescription medication and regular check-ups.

As health care providers, insurance companies, policy makers, thought leaders and others continue to tackle this timely issue, real progress requires a focus on three important areas: 

  1. Collaboration. All parties need to work together to continue to improves access to care;
  2. Public Education. Efforts need to continue focusing on removing the stigma from mental illness, empowering those who need treatment to get help;
  3. Innovation. Finding new treatments to care for those suffering from mental illness

As for new treatments, there continues to be great progress, driven by unprecedented collaborations. Biopharmaceutical research companies are currently developing more than 100 medicines to help people who have some type of mental disorder. They are working in collaboration with academia, government researchers, patient organizations and others in the innovation ecosystem to apply new scientific approaches and knowledge of these diseases to bring new solutions to patients who face mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia or substance use disorders.

Improving access to care, removing the stigma attached to care and innovating new treatments for mental illnesses requires a systemic health care response. Recent events underscore the need for an urgency to this response, as well. The entire health care ecosystem has a responsibility to act – and to act quickly.

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