The high cost of untreated mental illness

A typical morning in our communities has a bustle of activity as individuals prepare for work and school. Yet, beneath this activity are many individuals for whom contemplating even the next hour is difficult; these are the individuals living with a mental illness.

This difficulty is not by choice. Who would choose despair over hope; anxiety over serenity, or hallucinations over clarity?

According to the National Institutes of Health, mental illnesses are experienced by nearly 25 percent of American adults in a given year. A surgeon general’s report reveals that 10 percent of all children and adolescents suffer from emotional and mental disorders that cause significant impairment to their everyday lives.

Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness are staggering. People living with severe mental illness die 25 years earlier than those without serious mental illness. Untreated mental health issues cause unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, family disruption, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and discarded lives. The Ohio Business Roundtable believes depression alone has an annual economic cost to Ohioans of $4 billion to $5 billion.

Adults with severe and untreated mental illness do not contribute to the tax base. More than 90 percent of adults with severe mental illness are unemployed. For each employed Ohioan, the combined state and local annual tax gain averages almost $2,900 annually.

Children with severe emotional disturbance are less likely to graduate from high school – at a rate of 58 percent not graduating. Children with a mentally ill parent are over-represented in the child welfare system. Only one-third of children with a mentally ill parent are raised by that parent.

Treatment for serious mental illness today are highly effective. With a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatments and supports, the recovery rate for bipolar disorder is 80 percent; panic disorder is 75 percent, major depression is between 70-80 percent; and for schizophrenia, the rate is 60 percent. Community mental health treatment is tremendously cost-effective.

Hospitalizing a person costs about five times more annually than providing services to that same person in the community.

Thanks goes to Miriam Keith, Washington County Behavioral Health Board, for her permission to use the above information.

The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties is committed to sharing information and resources for better mental health and the prevention of substance abuse. It now has a website,, and a link to our Facebook page.

If you would like more information, please call the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties at (419) 448-0640 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. The board’s hotline is available 24/7 at (800) 826-1306.

Nancy Cochran, executive director