Our Broken Billion Dollar Behavioral Health System


In 2000, the estimated cost for mental health care (including direct/indirect cost, mortality relating to suicide and work absenteeism) totaled to $80.1 billion. In 2010, the estimated cost for mental health care increased by 39.47% totaling to $210.5 billion. It is estimated that the cost for treating substance abuse disorders (which has become the largest social problem in the United States) will total to $280.5 billion at the end of 2020.

Though billions of dollars are spent each year, mental health care and substance abuse populations are still heavily underserved. The United States Prison System is the largest behavioral health provider in the country. Long wait times still plague both public and private mental health systems. Lack of authorization or payment from third party insurance companies have also crippled mental health providers, limiting the amount of care that can be provided to individuals in need of mental health or substance abuse services.

The fragmentation of behavioral health treatment increases cost and decreases quality of care.

Forensic hospitalization and residential treatment account for the highest cost for behavioral health treatment. The National Institute for Mental Health suggest an in-depth focus on more preventative or risk reduction programs to decrease total cost and severity of mental health/substance abuse treatment (Robertson, Swanson, Lin, Easter, Frisman and Swartz, 2015). Furthermore, the fragmentation of behavioral health treatment increases cost and decreases quality of care.

Our current behavioral health system is broken. There is need for a more comprehensive approach that integrates risk reduction, access to care and best practices for all (Lieberman, Goldman, Olfson, Pincus & Sederer, 2017). A comprehensive approach will support quality treatment that minimizes the exacerbation of symptoms of mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Read more here: Improving Mental Health Care in America: An Opportunity for Comprehensive Reform and Influence of Criminal Justice Involvement and Psychiatric Diagnoses on Treatment Costs Among Adults With Serious Mental Illness

Martin LaRoche is an experienced Behavioral Healthcare Administrator and Mental Health Advocate. Martin serves as the founder of the MVP Consulting Group– a behavioral health consulting firm based in Los Angeles, CA. Martin is also a second year PhD candidate- his current research will focus on the optimization of behavioral healthcare delivery.


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