On Wednesday, there was a shooting at the Fort Hood military installation in Texas, which left at least four people dead, including the gunman, and 16 others severely injured.
The gunman was Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, who took his own life, was receiving mental health treatment. Five years earlier, another soldier killed 13 people and hurt more than 30 at the very same post. And just last year, a civilian gunman with a history of mental illness killed 12 people on the Washington Navy Yard before he was killed by police.
What’s common to each of these cases: mental illness, access to mental health treatment and the quality of that mental health treatment.
Unfortunately, this sort of tale happens all too often; it’s more the case than the exception.
Here are 4 reasons mental health treatment can’t be optional.
#1. Mental illness isn’t just going to go away on its own
In 2009, Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds was stabbed multiple times in the head and chest by his 24-year-old son Gus. Gus then committed suicide; Creigh survived his injuries. For the three years leading up these tragic events, Gus Deeds struggled with bipolar disorder.
Gus Deeds had received a medical evaluation at a local community hospital on an emergency custody order the day before. Under state law, the order allows for someone with a mental illness and who is suspected of causing harm to others to be held for only four hours after they are taken into custody, during which time a bed is located. However, in Gus Deeds’ case, he was released due to a lack of psychiatric beds.
“That makes absolutely no sense,” Deeds said. “An emergency room cannot turn away a person in cardiac arrest because the ER is full, a police officer does not wait to arrest a murder suspect or a bank robber if no jail space is identified.”
Sen. Deeds has said of his son, “In every sense of the word, my son was my hero.”
#2. Mental health treatment reduces medical costs
It’s actually costing taxpayers more when mental health treatment isn’t guaranteed to all.
Research studies show that when people have access to appropriate and adequate mental health treatment, their overall use of medical services declines. So for example, a study of people with anxiety disorders showed that after receiving psychological treatment, their number of medical visits decreased by 90%, laboratory costs related to their care decreased by 50%, and overall treatment costs dropped by 35%.
While, on the other hand, studies show that people with untreated mental health issues are twice as likely to visit a medical doctor as people who receive mental health care.
Excessive anxiety and stress can contribute to physical problems such as heart disease, ulcers, and colitis. Anxiety and stress can also reduce the strength of the immune system, making people more vulnerable to conditions ranging from the common cold to cancer.
#3. Good mental health is good for businesses and therefore the economy
When employees have good mental health, the businesses benefit. When someone has a clean bill of mental health, they are more likely to be productive, to perform better, to be reliable and consistent, and to have fewer workplace accidents.
Therefore, business owners and other employers can strengthen and ensure the success of their businesses by offering employee health plans with extensive mental health treatment and benefits.
#4. Addiction affects 1 in 3 American families and usually involves an aspect of mental illness
Someone suffering with untreated mental illness is more likely to make poor behavioral choices which can contribute to medical problems. Smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use, poor nutrition, and risky behavior can all result in health problems that require medical attention.
Last year $350 billion was spent on addictions-related healthcare costs, alone. And only 2% of that went to preventive care, such as treatment facilities. That means that 98% went to healthcare costs accrued as a result of substance abuse, which often involves mental health treatment.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.