A severe shortage of inpatient care for people with mental illness is amounting to a public health crisis, as the number of individuals struggling with a range of psychiatric problems continues to rise.
…A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services estimates 3.4 percent of Americans — more than 8 million people — suffer from serious psychological problems.
The disappearance of long-term-care facilities and psychiatric beds has escalated over the past decade.
…A 2012 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that works to remove treatment barriers for people with mental illness, found the number of psychiatric beds decreased by 14 percent from 2005 to 2010. That year, there were 50,509 state psychiatric beds, meaning there were only 14 beds available per 100,000 people.
…”Many times individuals who really do require intensive psychiatric care find themselves homeless or more and more in prison,” Sisti says. “Much of our mental health care now for individuals with serious mental illness has been shifted to correctional facilities.”
…Many of the private mental health hospitals still in operation do not accept insurance and can cost upwards of $30,000 per month, Sisti says. For many low-income patients, Medicaid is the only path to mental health care, but a provision in the law prevents the federal government from paying for long-term care in an institution.
As a result, many people who experience a serious mental health crisis end up in the emergency room. According to data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, between 2001 and 2011, 6 percent of all emergency department patients had a psychiatric condition. Nearly 11 percent of those patients require transfer to another facility, but there are often no beds available.
…Most hospitals are unable to take care of people for more than 72 hours, Sisti explains, so patients are sent back out into the world without adequate access to treatment.