Majority of Mental Illness Cases Go Untreated
Fewer than 33% of people with "serious depression or anxiety disorder" receive proper medical treatment and mental illness treatment shortfalls are "striking" for blacks, the elderly and the young, a recent study conducted by researchers at UCLA and Rand Corp., found. The Los Angeles Times reports that the study, published in the January issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, interviewed 1,636 people with a "strong likelihood of suffering" from mental illness about their mental state and any treatment they had received. While 83% of respondents with depression or an anxiety disorder had seen health care providers during the year preceding the interview, only 30% received care for psychological disorders. Those with mental illnesses who visited mental health specialists were more likely to receive care than those who saw a primary care physician, as 90% of the former were treated compared to 19% of the later. Those "least likely" to receive care were blacks, men, those younger than 30 or older than 59 and people with "less than a high school education." In addition, the study found that health insurance coverage "made little difference" in the rates of appropriate care because reasons for the problem range from embarrassment to "poor availability of treatment." Often, people do not "recognize ... they have a condition that needs treatment." The study concluded that doctors need to "do a much better job of identifying" mental disorders in order to treat them properly. To improve treatment rates, health plans such as PacifiCare and Kaiser Permanente are teaching providers about mental illness and offering "anonymous self diagnostic screens" for the disorders. Bruce Link, professor of public health at Columbia University, said, "Dealing with mental disorders takes time -- you have to engage the person, ask a few open-ended questions. You have to make it feel all right to talk about this. Physicians don't have a lot of time" (Mestel, Los Angeles Times, 1/12).
Alcohol- and substance-related mental disorders and depression are second only to childbirth in the number of uninsured hospital stays they cause, according to statistics from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. These mental disorders account for about 135,000 uninsured hospital stays each year. Of substance related stays, nearly 23% are uninsured, while 19% of alcohol-related and 8% of depression-related hospital patients are uninsured. A list of diagnoses of the uninsured can be found at http://www.ahrq.gov/news/press/pr2001/hosptable.htm (AHRQ release, 1/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.