Let’s Address Indiana’s Growing Mental Health Crisis – Indianapolis Business Journal
Indiana is in the midst of a mental health crisis.
In a recent study by Mental Health America, Indiana was ranked 41st in the nation for mental health status among adults, based on prevalence of mental illness and access to care, and 23rd for adults. kids. Behind these dismal rankings are Hoosiers in communities across our state that have been harmed by the devastating effects of untreated mental illness.
This spring, the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission asked the Fairbanks School of Public Health to examine the cost of untreated mental illness. From that position, Fairbanks published a study that revealed some staggering facts about Indiana’s mental health. Approximately one in five Hoosiers experience a mental illness each year. For every four Hoosiers treated for mental illness, another Hoosier does not receive treatment.
When a person does not receive help, the damage of mental illness can be deadly. In 2020, Indiana lost 1,079 Hoosiers to suicide. Additionally, mental illness is linked to many serious chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Each year, the economic burden of untreated mental illness in Indiana exceeds $4.2 billion. This includes direct costs like healthcare, incarceration, and homeless shelter expenses, and indirect costs like lost productivity due to absenteeism, premature mortality, and caregiver expenses.
The impact of untreated mental illness in Indiana, present and future, cannot be underestimated. And yet we don’t have the mental health infrastructure to provide care to thousands of people who need it.
In September, the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission issued a report that identified specific concerns, including lack of communication and collaboration across systems, access to preventive services, and consistency in care across the state. From people in crisis to people trying to get care in the community, the current system is ineffective and inefficient. The primary entry point is often involvement with the police or an emergency room, and then there are delays in linkage to needed care. These breaches are affecting the people who are suffering, their families, law enforcement, hospitals, community and state resources.
Under the leadership of Governor Eric Holcomb and Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch, the state has taken important steps to close these gaps and begin building, for the first time, a functioning mental health infrastructure. In 2020, Congress passed a law by unanimous vote to establish 988 as the emergency number for responses to behavioral crises, replacing a patchwork system of state and local efforts. Indiana has used one-time federal funds for the 988 transition to begin building a comprehensive crisis response system. Indiana has also made significant progress in improving the justice system’s response to mental illness. However, there is still much work to be done.
In January, Sen. Mike Crider, Republican of Greenfield, will introduce legislation to advance the main recommendations of the Behavioral Health Commission report, with two main focal points.
First, the legislation will create sustainable funding for a statewide crisis response system by mirroring the cell phone surcharge currently used to fund Indiana’s 911 system. Second, the legislation will support Indiana’s transition to the Certified Behavioral Health Community Clinic model, which has shown great success in increasing access to care in many other states.
With these two important pieces, Indiana can take bold and radical steps to improve access to mental health care for Hoosiers. We urge the General Assembly to give the commission’s recommendations and this critical legislation careful consideration for the well-being of our state, now and for generations to come.•
Lechleiter and Evans are members of the Indiana Mental Health Roundtable. Lechleiter was CEO of Eli Lilly and Co. Evans was CEO of Indiana University Health.