Data Demands Urgent Action on New Freedom Report

People Living With Mental Illness In America Are Paying A High Price For Failures Of The Mental Health System And Continuing Public Stigma. In A National Survey Of 3400 People Living With The Most Serious Mental Illnesses, 86% Were In The Prime Of Life, Between 18 And 54, But Two-Thirds Are Unemployed: 55% Live On An Annual Income Below $10,000. In The Absence Of Community Treatment, Nearly Half Were Hospitalized Last Year; 40% Had Crisis Emergency Care.

Jul 23 2003

Arlington, VA - TRIAD, NAMI's Treatment/Recovery Information and Advocacy Database, released data today compiled from interviews with 3400 individuals living with serious mental illnesses in all 50 states.

Fifty percent of the sample had schizophrenia and 25 percent bipolar disorder. All had serious mental illness or a combination of disorders. The survey results paint a grim picture of the life of a recipient of services from America's mental health system. "Survey data shows there is no freedom, but a growing feeling of hopelessness for 15 million Americans with serious mental illness," said Dr. Richard C. Birkel, executive director of NAMI, The Nation's Voice on Mental Illness.

TRIAD reported 67% of people with serious mental illness are unemployed: 55% have an annual income of less than $10,000. Barriers to employment for survey participants include fear of losing their health benefits and lack of supported employment services, but discrimination and stigma were cited as the primary reason for unemployment by 45%.

"We applaud the New Freedom report's call for transformation of the mental health treatment system," said Birkel referring to findings released Tuesday from the President's New Freedom Commission. "The results of our national survey show that people living with mental illnesses and their families are suffering unnecessarily. They have put their lives on hold and they are losing hope. We must act with urgency to turn things around so that recovery remains a hope and a possibility. If we do not, this generation and the one to follow will be the ones who pay for our failures."

TRIAD presents a sobering assessment of the face of mental illness in America. Over 62% of the people surveyed have never married. Near 44% have been detained or arrested by law enforcement for minor offenses: more than 50% received no treatment while in custody.

Open-ended questionnaires recorded multiple frustrations, tragedies and unrelenting fears; such as, losing effective medications due to state budget cuts or a moment's forgetfulness in handling the costly supports. One parent wrote: "My 35-year-old son jumped from the 10th floor after almost 48 hours off all meds, three days after a hospital discharge for depression. He misplaced meds given by staff and called crisis intervention for replacement. The request was denied. Family and police also requested help getting meds. Request denied. We were all told by crisis workers… he needed ‘consequence' of misplacing meds…Request for doctor on call denied.

"Requests repeated at 3 a.m. Sunday," the mother continued. "Suicide at 7:45 a.m. Sunday."

Nationwide, treatment and support services are scarce, fragmented and often of poor quality, especially in rural America, according to respondents. "There was nothing a psychiatrist could do 100 miles away and no way to get a child in crisis to them safely," stated one young mother. "My husband and I would sleep with a troubled child between us to insure that they would not harm themselves during the night—and try to get help the next day. In [state], if you take a child to the emergency room that is in crisis, they are taken from your family and your chances of ever getting them back again is very small."

"It's time to build a world-class public mental health system in America, one that delivers the best treatment that science has to offer. We cannot wait another generation or another day," stated Birkel. "Results from TRIAD should be viewed as a baseline. Each year forward we need to see progress in people's lives. This is the only way to hold ourselves, local, state and federal governments accountable: progress has to be measured in people's lives. We expect to see real improvement, and it has to happen quickly."