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Mental Health: The $293 Billion Elephant in the Waiting Room

  • Published: 2015-01-30 : Author: National Council for Behavioral Health : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Costs for treating patients with conditions accompanied by mental illnesses and addictions higher than those without these disorders.

Main Document

"Nearly nine million U.S. adults have a mental illness that greatly affects their day-to-day living..."

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 41 million (18 percent) American adults had some form of mental illness and nearly 20 million (8 percent) had an addiction in 2011. Costs for treating patients with chronic medical conditions accompanied by mental illnesses and addictions can be two to three times higher than those without these disorders, totaling an estimated $293 billion in 2012 across commercially-insured, Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries in the United States.

Two new business cases published by the National Council for Behavioral Health outline straightforward, cost-saving solutions to America's behavioral health needs by closing the gap between those needing behavioral health care and those receiving it. By better integrating medical and behavioral health care and expanding the use of evidence-based practices to coordinate care, providers can treat mental illnesses and addictions, as well as chronic medical conditions.

Behavioral health disorders cripple America's workforce as the leading cause of disability.

Nearly nine million U.S. adults have a mental illness that greatly affects their day-to-day living, and 10.8 million full-time adult workers have an addiction, as do 3.3 million part time workers, 2.2 million unemployed adults and 3.3 million adults who are not in the labor force.

Despite this heavy burden on the economy, treatment of behavioral health disorders is a low priority. More than one in three adults with a serious mental illness and 90 percent of adults with addictions receive no treatment. Less than one-third of those treated receive care considered minimally adequate.

"We need a sustained shift from sick care to health care in the United States that focuses on both mind and body," says Linda Rosenberg, National Council president and CEO. "Using high impact strategies to reduce preventable expenditures on emergency and inpatient care by individuals with mental illnesses and addictions can generate savings that states, health plans and communities can use more effectively."

These savings can be reallocated to expand services to those with behavioral health disorders, allowing for resizing of funding pools for acute care, specialty care, primary care and behavioral health care. Lower use acute care and specialty utilization can then permanently fund expanded integration of primary care and behavioral health services, breaking the cycle that has been driving health care costs up unnecessarily.

These case studies are available online at

The National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council) is the unifying voice of America's community mental health and addictions treatment organizations. Together with 2,200 member organizations, it serves more than eight million adults and children living with mental illnesses and addiction disorders. The organization is committed to ensuring all Americans have access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery and full participation in community life. The National Council, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health pioneered Mental Health First Aid in the U.S. and has trained more than 250,000 individuals to connect youth and adults in need to mental health and addictions care in their communities. To learn more about the National Council, visit

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