View from
The Left

The Important Role of States in Young Adults’ Mental Health

Image via

Too many young adults take their own lives. The government needs to take responsibility for providing more resources instead of stripping them away.

One in 12 U.S. college students plan their suicide. More than 60 percent of students reported feeling lonely in 2015. Two thirds of students struggling with mental health do not seek out treatment. Three quarters of all chronic mental illness starts to set in by the age of 24. On average, U.S. adults with serious mental illness die 25 years younger than those without. Lastly, and perhaps most frighteningly, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among young adults ages 20-24, the age range within suicide rates also are the highest.

“Only 25 percent of people with mental health issues feel like others care about their health.”

Mental health is not something that only affects a certain type of person, nor is it something for which people should feel ashamed to seek help and/or discuss. As seen by the above statistics, mental health is an extremely serious and prevalent societal issue — particularly among college-aged students and adults — which is surely exacerbated by the cultural stigma surrounding it. Perhaps this stigma can be attributed in part to the states not doing enough to ensure ample education and treatment resources, and thus sending a message that mental health is not a priority.

In states with the lowest mental health workforce, there are up to six times the individuals seeking treatment to one mental health professional. In Alabama, there is only one mental health professional per 1,260 citizens. Even in Maine, the state with the highest access to mental health professionals, only 58.6 percent of adults with a form of mental illness receive treatment.

Each state has freedom in designing and funding its mental health system. State funding is used not only for state hospitals, but also at the county and local levels. States have the power to address a wide array of mental health issues including the implementation and effectiveness of treatment facilities as well as the standards for involuntary treatment. States can also work to prevent mental illness in anywhere from the workplace and academic institutions to treatment facilities. This includes creating harsher policies fighting mental and physical abuse as well as discrimination, all of which can make certain individuals more susceptible to poor mental health. State funded academic institutions also play an important role in fostering research on mental health, which should be made a priority particularly in states with lower access to care.

Depending largely on the state’s politico-economic climate, states will play a larger or smaller role in funding mental health services. According to data from Gallup and Mental Health America, the top five states in terms of mental health care access are all Democratic or competitive-leaning states, with Vermont placing in first. A majority of the lower half is Republican-leaning with 15 of the last 25 being Republican and only 2 being Democratic. This raises the question as to whether mental health access is, at least to some extent, a partisan issue. Whether or not this is the case, mental health should be thoroughly addressed across all states, regardless of the demographics.

“Serious mental illness costs the U.S. $193.2 billion in lost revenue every year.”

Although total (non-Medicaid) mental health spending from the state increased, its share of total mental health spending fell from 27 to 15 percent between 1986 and 2009. Furthermore, it is expected to continue decreasing for at least two more years. Fortunately, however, this trend of cutting state-funded mental health services is reversing. In the fiscal year of 2015, 29 states and Washington D.C. increased their budgeted general fund allocations to mental health. For context, a state’s general fund includes most traditional state services, excluding only those that require separate fund accounting due a specific constitutional or statutory requirement. In addition to the benefits of non-Medicaid mental health spending, state increases in Medicaid expansion have positive results such as fewer uninsured adults with mental illness.

The financial losses that stem from mental illness are absolutely worth noting. Serious mental illness costs the U.S. $193.2 billion in lost revenue every year. According to Forbes, programs that address youth mental health show better, lifelong outcomes in both health and education. Along with these important benefits, access to quality mental health care saves money and resources that would be spent on those struggling in other, more expensive settings such as emergency rooms, homeless shelters, and jails. These long-term financial and individual benefits are significant, and if the states would work harder to do pursue them, perhaps the cultural discourse around mental health would shift in accordance with the policy.

To put more pressure onto the states to take greater action in the mental health arena, President Donald Trump’s latest budget would slash Medicaid, which currently serves more than 70 million Americans who are especially in need of mental (as well as other forms of) health care.

Now is the time for states, as well at the federal government with which the states work, to take greater responsibility for the mental health care of their constituents–especially the young adults who are the most vulnerable.