The 62-page report, The Economic Burden of Mental Health Inequities in the United States Report, released by the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine (SHLI), found that investment in mental health would have saved nearly 117,000 lives and $278 billion over a four-year period.

The study, which was conducted with support by Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., and performed in conjunction with the Eugene S. Farley, Jr. Health Policy Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and the Robert Graham Center, aimed to answer two questions: how many lives and how many dollars could be saved if the mental and behavioral health care system became more equitable?

Researchers undertook a comprehensive literature review, analyzed public data sets, and examined state and national policies over a four-year period (2016-2020) to demonstrate a relationship between economic status, mental health status, and racial and ethnic status.

They found that national estimates chronically underrepresent the actual burden of mental health care inequities, which has had an impact on policies, funding, access to care, and resources.

Indeed, nearly six million Americans are not accounted for in national reporting estimates regarding mental health care. This includes individuals who are often most vulnerable to mental illness including the incarcerated, nursing home residents, those living in assisted living facilities, the homeless/unhoused, active military, and those who are institutionalized in psychiatric facilities. The study also found that excess costs due to mental illness and substance use disorder among the incarcerated and unhoused alone amount to an additional $63 billion to $92 billion annually.

“Investing in mental health care saves lives and dollars—we have known this for decades, but until now did not fully understand the monumental impacts of neglecting to act,” Daniel Dawes, professor and executive director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine and author of the Political Determinants of Health, said in the study announcement.For the first time, there is tangible evidence demonstrating how decades of systemic health inequities have yielded significantly worse outcomes for racial and ethnic minoritized, marginalized, and under resourced populations.”

The report suggests three actions to address these inequities:

  • Make sustainable, long-term investments into mental and behavioral health systems, including programs, treatments, supports, and interventions that will advance mental health equity
  • Develop socio-culturally tailored approaches to mental and behavioral health services and programs
  • Address the social and political determinants of health inequities