Americans Report More Serious Mental Health Issues

Megan Brooks, reporting in MedScape, on April 18, 2017:

“One thing that is important to highlight is the impact of the recession of 2008 on the mentally ill,” she told Medscape Medical News. “They didn’t recover in their ability to utilize healthcare the way that people who were not mentally ill were able to recover. Somehow maybe they were barely holding on before the recession, and then they were wiped out and they still have not recovered.”

A record 8.3 million US adults, or 3.4% of the US population, suffer from serious psychological distress (SPD), yet many go without proper treatment, according to a new analysis of federal data.

SPD involves feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and restlessness severe enough to impair one’s physical well-being. Previous estimates put the number of Americans suffering from SPD at 3% or less.

The investigators analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey for 2006 to 2014 on a diverse group of more than 207,000 Americans aged 18 to 64 years from more than 35,000 US households.

“Based on our data, we estimate that millions of Americans have a level of emotional functioning that leads to lower quality of life and life expectancy,” lead study investigator Judith Weissman, PhD, JD, a research manager in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City, said in a news release. “Our study may also help explain why the US suicide rate is up to 43,000 people each year.”

“And there has been an uptick in the last decade of suicide and serious psychological distress in the middle age. The middle age is a newly discovered high-risk group,” she told Medscape Medical News.

They further estimate that 10.5% of people with SPD in 2014 experienced delays in getting professional help due to insufficient mental health coverage; for 2006, 9.5% said they experienced such delays. In addition, 9.9% could not afford to pay for their psychiatric medications in 2014, up from 8.7% in 2006.

The study also found that adults with SPD were more likely to visit a physician 10 or more times in the past year, relative to those without SPD.

“There is this paradox with the mentally ill in that they do actually see a lot of doctors,” Dr Weissman told Medscape Medical News. “They have high utilization, yet at the same time they have very poor health, and they continue to have poor mental health. It’s a pattern that appears to be chaotic health care utilization in the mentally ill.”

The study was published online April 17 in Psychiatric Services.