NAMI study: depression costs Texas billions of dollars

NAMI study: depression costs Texas billions of dollars

By Andrea Ball

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Depression costs Texans billions of dollars each year in lost wages and medical costs, damages relationships, runs up personal debt and hurts careers, a new study says.

Texans lose $16.6 billion each year in direct and indirect costs related to depression, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The study, funded by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, was conducted online by Harris Interactive. Of the 3,542 respondents, 566 were from Texas.

The study echoes what others — including a 2005 report from the Mental Health Association in Texas — have said: that untreated mental illness is personally devastating and financially expensive. But it also offers detailed insight into the problems faced by people with limited insurance coverage, a lack of local providers or other hurdles to treatment.

Among the Texas findings:

•Survey respondents with limited access to treatment had incurred an average of more than $20,000 in annual out-of pocket, depression-related costs such as therapy and medication.

Limited access was defined as having no health insurance, a health plan with high deductibles ($1,050 for individuals and $2,100 for a family), a pharmacy benefit plan that provides no coverage for certain brand-name pharmaceuticals or a health plan that provides no coverage for doctor visits or for prescription medications.

•Employed respondents said their work was affected seven out of the previous 30 workdays because of their depression.

•More than one-third (38 percent) reported some kind of relationship problem because of depression.

•Almost a quarter (23 percent) reported that during the previous 30 days, they had unpaid bills more than 60 days overdue because of other, depression-related expenses.

“People are desperate enough to go into huge amounts of debt,” said Robin Peyson, executive director of NAMI Texas.

Texas ranks 38th in the country in the number of psychiatrists per 100,000 people, 40th for psychologists and 45th for social workers, the study says.

The report does a good job of backing up concerns long raised by mental health advocates, said Laurie Alexander of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, a University of Texas-based foundation that works on mental health issues. Advocates have long maintained that untreated psychiatric problems affect all taxpayers because people with mental illness often end up in in jails or emergency rooms.

“Even if you don’t care at all about mental illness, you probably care about spending money,” Alexander said. “So why not treat mental illnesses and spend less money?”

Frisco resident Alice Clark applauded the report, saying its findings reflect her experience “almost to the letter.”

Clark, 55, was a successful loan officer with two kids, a house, a pool and a car. Then, 13 years ago, depression immobilized her. She couldn’t work or care for her children. She moved in with her mother.

“I couldn’t get out of bed,” Clark said. “It was so overwhelming to see how low I had fallen; I thought I’d never get out of it.”

Six years later, a doctor diagnosed her with depression. Clark took medication and underwent psychotherapy. Today, she works part time, has close relationships with her children and and is an advocate for NAMI.

“Treatment works, and people need to know that,” Clark said. “I live a better life now. I’m happier.”

[email protected]; 512-912-2506

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