States ranked on prevalence of mental illness, access to care

By Susan Gonsalves
April 5th, 2023
Jennifer M. Doran, Ph.D. , is president of the Connecticut Psychological Association.
Jennifer M. Doran, Ph.D., is president of the Connecticut Psychological Association.

Inequities also highlighted

Using data that does not reflect the COVID-19 pandemic era, nearly 50 million or 19.86 percent of American adults experienced a mental illness in 2019. And, 24.7 percent report an unmet need for treatment.

Further, only 27 percent of youth with severe depression receive consistent care and one in three do not receive treatment, even in states with greatest access to care.

These statistics are derived from the “State of Mental Health in America” report by the non-profit Mental Health America with data collected from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Department of Education in all states and the District of Columbia.

Overall, the New England states fared well, reflecting lower prevalence of mental illness and higher access to care for both youth and adults.

“Our youth are not experiencing less depression, but are receiving less treatment for that depression and this is a problem.” -- Jennifer M. Doran, Ph.D., president, Connecticut Psychological Association

Massachusetts ranks first, while Connecticut and Vermont are close behind in fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by Maine in eighth, Rhode Island in 11th and New Hampshire ranking 13th.

Additionally, the New England overall state rankings improved with the exception of Vermont, which dropped from first place down to fifth. The other changes were as follows: Maine—14th to eighth; Massachusetts—third to first; New Hampshire—18th to 13th, and Rhode Island, 12th to 11th. Connecticut’s improvement from 13th to fourth is “good news,” according to Jennifer M. Doran, Ph.D., president of the Connecticut Psychological Association.

But she emphasized it does not reflect the reality many people are facing regarding mental health care.

She noted that it typically takes people several months to find a provider and longer if they are looking for one who takes insurance.

The report’s other metrics show workforce availability with Massachusetts ranking first, Maine and Vermont at fifth and sixth, Rhode Island in ninth and New Hampshire in 16th.

Connecticut ranks seventh with a ratio of 240:1. However, Doran said the unmet treatment needs are still “unacceptably high,” especially for depressed youth.

The state ranks 41st in the country when rating how many youth experiencing a clinically significant depressive episode have received any mental health treatment.

More than a quarter of CT’s population reports no treatment at all and close to 20 percent say they want/are seeking treatment but are not able to get it.

“Our youth are not experiencing less depression, but are receiving less treatment for that depression and this is a problem,” Doran said.

Doran noted she has personally worked to help parents in the community find providers for children and a typical wait from the request to getting an appointment is six months.

“When children and families are in crisis, this is unacceptable and, in some cases, dangerous. Primary barriers are no providers in an insurance panel, providers full and not taking new patients, etc.,” she explained.

The study also found that 7.74 percent of adults in America reported having a substance use disorder in the past year, with 2.97 percent of adults having an illicit drug use disorder and 5.71 percent of adults reporting an alcohol use disorder.

This category found New England states reporting high percentage rates of this disorder with Connecticut placing 35th, Massachusetts and New Hampshire at 39th and 40th, Maine and Rhode Island at 42nd and 43rd, and Vermont in 48th.

The percentage rates ranged from CT’s 8.43 percent up to Vermont’s 10.10 percent.

“This makes our access to care gaps extra concerning, as it is likely many with active substance abuse problems are not receiving any treatment or not able to access treatment if they want or need it,” Doran said.

The report also highlighted the national trend of health disparities and healthy inequity in communities of color –with poorer access and more barriers to care and higher rates of unmet needs.

For example, Asian youth with a past year major depressive episode were least likely to have received specialty mental health care (71 percent), followed by Native American or Alaska Native youth (68 percent), and Black or African American Youth (68 percent).

White youth with MDE were most likely to receive specialty mental health care, but still more than half (54 percent) did not receive treatment.

Said Doran, “In the climate of systemic insurance barriers and a broken system, mental health care is becoming increasingly a privilege for the elite…There is still not parity between physical and mental health and the current and exacerbating health disparities are unacceptable and must be addressed.”

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