The discrimination that is associated with mental health stigma presents a myriad of challenges for those living with mental illness. For instance, because of discrimination it is too often difficult, if not impossible, for individuals with mental illness to secure housing and employment. Because of misconceptions and falsehoods, non-violent symptom-related behavior can lead to unfair incarceration. Furthermore, the lack of parity in health care results in inadequate access to health insurance benefits and equitable coverage and treatment for persons with mental illness.
When stigma and discrimination take hold, the consequences can be tragic. Individuals, just like you and me, who would otherwise hold the promise of a happy and fruitful life, are instead forced down a path of isolation and despair. The effect of stigma on our communities is devastating. More than 50 million adults - nearly 25 percent of the U.S. adult population - live with mental disorders or substance abuse disorders on an annual basis and as many as 18 million Americans are affected by depression annually. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages 15-44. These figures must not be ignored.
Success rates of treatment for mental illnesses are high. The NIMH cites that successful treatment of illnesses such as schizophrenia (60 percent), depression (70-80 percent) and panic disorder (70-90 percent) surpass those of other medical conditions (heart disease, for example, has a treatment success rate of 45-50 percent). The high costs to society of untreated and under-treated mental illnesses are well documented. Providing equal and appropriate coverage for all illnesses makes good economic sense; when mental illnesses go untreated, social costs begin to escalate.
The cost of untreated mental illness is staggering. NIMH estimates that the annual cost of untreated mental illnesses exceeds $300 billion primarily due to productivity losses (missed days of work and premature death) of $150 billion, health care costs of $70 billion, and societal costs (increased use of the criminal justice system and social welfare benefits) of $80 billion.
If mental health stigma is permitted to prevail, it will prevail at the continued expense of the communities in which we live. This expense is not only economically unsatisfactory - it is physically, social, and fundamentally unsatisfactory.