State of the Union: Mental Illness
Monday, January 22, 2007

From National Journal - mental illness is one of the issues you will NOT hear addressed in tomorrow's State of the Union ...

After 40 years of blue-ribbon panels, myriad reports, and poorly aligned public policies, severe mental illness remains an intractable and deepening problem in America. For proof, look no further than the homeless lady muttering on the corner outside your office building.

"Mental illness is the No. 1 public health crisis in the U.S. today," declared Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Va. ...

In 2001, the most recent year for which official figures are available, the U.S. spent $85 billion on mental health treatment. Experts estimate that figure is closer to $130 billion today, with federal prescription coverage included. The costliest subset by far is the severely and persistently mentally ill -- about 12 million adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression -- who account for 58 percent of the spending, according to researcher and activist E. Fuller Torrey ....

It doesn't help that the federal government continues a long-standing ban on the use of Medicaid money to fund state mental hospitals, said Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. The policy led to a wholesale emptying of state psychiatric hospitals in the mid-1960s and another wave of discharges in the early 1990s. "In Virginia, we've closed 50 percent of state hospital beds in the last 20 years," Zdanowicz said. "That's a critical -- and often overlooked -- loss for people who need intensive treatment for a severe mental illness."