|Total Health Sector||11%*|
|Specialty Mental Health||6%|
|Human Services Professionals||5%|
|Voluntary Support Network||3%|
|Any of Above Services||15%|
*Subtotals do not add to total due to overlap.
Source: Regier et al., 1993; Kessler et al., 1996
Total Health Sector
Specialty Mental Health
Human Services Professionals
Other Human Services
Any of Above Services
*Subtotals do not add to total due to overlap.
Source: Shaffer et al., 1996
The de facto mental health service system is divided into public and private sectors. The term“public sector” refers both to services directly operated by government agencies (e.g., state and county mental hospitals) and to services financed with government resources (e.g., Medicaid, a Federal-state program for financing health care services for people who are poor and disabled, and Medicare, a Federal health insurance program primarily for older Americans and people who retire early due to disability). Publicly financed services may be provided by private organizations. The term“private sector” refers both to services directly operated by private agencies and to services financed with private resources (e.g., employer-provided insurance). Funding for the de facto mental health service system is discussed later in the report.
State and local government has been the major payer for public mental health services historically and remains so today. Since the mid-1960s, however, the role of the Federal government has increased. In addition to Medicare and Medicaid, the Federal government funds special programs for adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disability. Although small in relation to state and local funding, these Federal programs provide additional resources. They include the Community Mental Health Block Grant, Community Support programs, the PATH program for people with mental illness who are homeless, the Knowledge Development and Application Program, and the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program.
The fact that 16 percent of the U.S. adult population—largely the working poor—have no health insurance at all is the focus of considerable policy activity. Many others are inadequately insured. Initiatives designed to increase enrollment for selected populations include the newly created Child Health Insurance Program, which provides block grants to states for coverage of children not eligible for Medicaid.
These federally funded public sector programs buttress the traditional responsibility of state and local mental health systems and serve as the mental health service“safety net” and“catastrophic insurer” for those citizens with the most severe problems and the fewest resources in the United States. The public sector serves particularly those individuals with no health insurance, those who have insurance but no mental health coverage, and those who exhaust limited mental health benefits in their health insurance.
Each sector of the de facto mental health service system has different patterns and types of care and different patterns of funding. Within the specialty mental health sector, state- and county-funded mental health services have long served as a safety net for people unable to obtain or retain access to privately funded mental health services. The general medical sector receives a relatively greater proportion of Federal Medicaid funds, while the voluntary support network sector, staffed principally by people with mental illness and their families, is largely funded by private donations of time and money to emotionally supportive and educational groups. The relative quality of care in these various sectors is a matter of intense interest and discussion, although there is little definitive research to date.
Effective functioning of the mental health service system requires connections and coordination among many sectors (public–private, specialty–general health, health–social welfare, housing, criminal justice, and education). Without coordination, it can readily become organizationally fragmented, creating barriers to access. Adding to the system’s complexity is its dependence on many streams of funding, with their sometimes competing incentives. For example, if as part of a Medicaid program reform, financial incentives lead to a reduction in admissions to psychiatric inpatient units in general hospitals and patients are sent to state mental hospitals instead, this cost containment policy conceivably could conflict with a policy directive to reduce the census of state mental hospitals.
The public and private parts of the de facto mental health system treat distinct populations with some overlap. As shown in Table 6-1, 11 percent of the U.S. population use specialty or general medical mental health services each year. Nearly 10 percent of the population—almost all users—received some care in private facilities, while 2 percent of the population received care in public facilities. About 1 percent of the population used inpatient care; of these, one-third received care in the public sector, suggesting that those requiring more intensive services rely more heavily on the public safety net (Regier et al., 1993; Kessler et al., 1994). Nonetheless, many people with severe and persistent illness now receive at least some of their care in the private sector. This makes it important to ensure that the private sector can meet the full treatment needs of this population.
Americans use the mental health service system in complex ways, or patterns. A total of about 15 percent of the U.S. adult population use mental health services in any given year. These data come from two epidemiologic surveys: the Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) study of the early 1980s and the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) of the early 1990s. Those surveys defined mental illness according to the prevailing editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (i.e., DSM-III and DSM- IIIR) and defined mental health services in accordance with the “de facto” system described above. Figure 6-1 presents a hierarchy of sectors in the treatment system (i.e., specialty mental health, general medical, and other human services).2 About 6 percent of the adult population use specialty mental health care; 5 percent of the population receive their mental health services from general medical and/or human services providers, and 3 to 4 percent of the population receive their mental health services from other human service professionals or self-help groups. (The overlap across these latter two sectors accounts for these figures totaling more than 15 percent) (Figure 6-1).
Also, slightly more than half of the 15 percent of the population that use mental health services have a specific mental or addictive disorder (8 percent), while the remaining portion has a mental health problem or a disorder not included in the ECA or NCS (7 percent). The surveys estimate that during a 1-year period, about one in five American adults—or 44 million people— have diagnosable mental disorders, according to reliable, established criteria. To be more specific, 19 percent of the adult U.S. population have a mental disorder alone (in 1 year); 3 percent have both mental and addictive disorders; and 6 percent have addictive disorders alone. Consequently, about 28 percent of the population have either a mental or addictive disorder (Regier et al., 1993; Kessler et al., 1994).
Given that 28 percent of the population have a diagnosable mental or substance abuse disorder and only 8 percent of adults both have a diagnosable disorder and use mental health services, one can conclude that less than one-third of adults with a diagnosable mental disorder receives treatment in one year. In short, a substantial majority of those with specific mental disorders do not receive treatment. Figure 6-1 depicts the 28 percent of the U.S. adult population who meet full criteria for a mental or addictive disorder, and illustrates that 8 percent receive mental health services while 20 percent do not receive such services in a given year.
Among the service users with specific disorders, between 30 and 40 percent perceived some need for care. However, most of those with disorders who did not seek care believed their problems would go away by themselves or that they could handle them on their own (Kessler et al., 1997). In a recent 1998 Robert Wood Johnson national household telephone survey, 11 percent of the population perceived a need for mental or addictive services, with about 25 percent of these reporting difficulties in obtaining needed care (Sturm & Sherbourne, 1999). Worry about costs was listed as the highest reason for not receiving care, with 83 percent of the uninsured and 55 percent of the privately insured listing this reason. The inability to obtain an appointment soon enough because of an insufficient supply of services was listed by 59 percent of those with Medicaid but by far fewer of those with private insurance.
Children and Adolescents
Comparable data on service use by children and adolescents with diagnoses of mental disorder and at least minimal impairment only recently have been obtained from a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) multisite survey of children and adolescents ages 9 to 17 years (Shaffer et al., 1996). Results from this survey are summarized in Table 6-2 and in Figure 6-2.
Although 9 percent of the entire child/adolescent sample received some mental health services in the health sector (that is, the general medical sector and specialty mental health sector), the largest provider of mental health services to this population was the school system. As shown in Figure 6-2, nearly 11 percent of the child/adolescent sample received their mental health services exclusively from the schools or the human services sector (with no services from the health sector); another 5 percent (not shown in Figure 6-2) received school services in addition to health sector services. Many children served by schools do not have diagnosable mental health conditions covered in available surveys—some may have other diagnoses such as adjustment reactions or acute stress reactions. In addition, 1 percent of children and adolescents received their mental health services from human service professionals, such as those in child welfare and juvenile justice. The latter is a setting under increasing scrutiny as the result of pending Federal legislation. At present, child data are unavailable that would exactly match the adult data on service use (analyzed by diagnostic severity and by public versus private sectors).
Almost 21 percent of children and adolescents (ages 9 to 17) had some evidence of distress or impairment associated with a specific diagnosis and also had at least a minimal level of impairment on a global assessment measure. Almost half of this group (almost 10 percent of the child/adolescent population) had some treatment in one or more sectors of the de facto mental health service system, and the remainder (more than 11 percent of the population) received no treatment in any sector of the health care system. This translates to a majority with mental disorders not receiving any care. Of the 21 percent of the young population receiving any mental health services, slightly less than half (about 10 percent) met full criteria for a mental disorder diagnosis; the remainder (more than 11 percent of the population) received diagnostic or treatment services for mental health problems, conditions that do not fully meet diagnostic criteria (Shaffer et al., 1996).
In summary, the mental health treatment system is a dynamic array of services accessed by patients with different levels of disorder and severity, as well as different social and medical service needs and levels and types of insurance financing. Disparities in access due to sociocultural factors have been described in earlier sections of this report. In a system in which substantial numbers of those with even the most severe mental illness do not receive any mental health care in a year, the match between service use and service need is clearly far from perfect. Neither the number nor the proportion of people with mental health problems who need or want treatment is yet established, and many factors influence perceived need for treatment, including severity of symptoms and functional disability as well as cultural factors. But obviously not everyone with a diagnosable mental disorder perceives a need for treatment, and not all who desire treatment have a currently diagnosable disorder. Providing access to appropriate mental health services is a fundamental concern for mental health policymakers in both the public and private arenas.
1 The National Comorbidity Survey, using a single interview requiring a 12-month recall period, determined that 4 percent of adults sought mental or addictive treatment services from primary care physicians. With a more intensive examination of primary health care use involving three interviews about service use during a 1-year period in the Epidemiologic Catchment Area study, more than 6 percent of adults indicated that they specifically spoke with their general medical physicians about their “emotions, nerves, drugs or alcohol.”