Should Mental Illness Funding Be Used on Addiction Treatment?

Should Mental Illness Funding Be Used on Addiction Treatment?

If you read the Breaking Bipolar blog over at HealthyPlace you might have seen a question earlier this week:

People have come down on both sides of this question on HealthyPlace and on Facebook but I think the overarching sentiment is that addiction is not just another mental illness as personal choices lead to its existence. No one causes bipolar disorder or schizophrenia through action but no one puts a drink in an alcoholic’s hand and forces them to imbibe. Moreover, addiction recovery is considerably simpler in that addicts get better by choosing not to use substances while other mental illness treatment involves months of treatment before any turnaround is seen and typically involves lifelong treatment. For addicts who are also suffering from a mental illness they are usually entered into an in-patient dual-diagnosis rehab program.

But whether you think that addiction (or, more specifically substance abuse and substance dependence) is simply another mental illness or not, there is this question:

Mental Illness Disability Costs

The reason why this is a critical question is because mental illness funding is so scarce. For example, the World Health Organization has assessed that four of the top ten causes of disability are mental illness worldwide. Those causes of disability are:

  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Severe Mental Illness Research Funding

And yet for every research dollar spent on healthcare less than one cent is spent on severe mental illness like schizophrenia. And, in case you were wondering:

  • 15 cents are allocated to AIDS
  • 10 cents to cancer
  • 2 cents to heart disease

And while these, certainly, are worthy research subjects, it doesn’t make sense monetarily as the cost of these illnesses to society for every research dollar spent is:

  • $161.26 for schizophrenia
  • $65.65 for heart disease
  • $9.96 for cancer
  • $6.86 for AIDS

Quite frankly the lack of funding makes me sick and shows an institutionalized stigma against those with a mental illness.

Addiction and Mental Illness Funding

Money for AddictionAnd look, I’m not saying that getting addiction treatment funding is a picnic, but by Jove do we ever have a lot more of it. While it certainly takes time to get into a program, those programs do exist and are much easier to get into than mental health programs. Moreover, there are addiction treatment centers all over the place that people with insurance can access. I’m not saying it’s perfect, it’s far from it, but compare it to having schizophrenia some time and you’ll see the difference.

So, again, should the tiny amount of dollars that are spent on serious mental illness be diverted to people with addictions and no other mental illness?

And if you really want to consider the question of funds meant for serious mental illness, consider these uses:

  • San Francisco County is spending money earmarked for prevention of “severe mental illness” for yoga, line dancing and drumming.
  • King County spends MHSA funds meant for people with “severe mental illness” on youth reading below grade level.
  • Butte County is using funds meant for “severe mental illness” to fund a “Therapeutic Wilderness Experience”.
  • Contra Costa County is using Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) funding meant for “severe mental illness” for a hip-hop carwash, family activity nights and a homework club.

So money that isn’t going to carwashes, line dancing or wilderness experiences should go to addiction? What is actually being done to help the people with serious mental illness?

Currently, California is diverting funds from the serious mental illness treatment to addiction treatment. So is this OK? Shouldn’t people with severe mental illness get to use those funds? Just how many people with schizophrenia living on the streets does it take for treatment agencies to take is seriously? (People with a serious mental illness make up about one-third of the homeless population.)

OK, so I’m getting worked up and maybe you don’t agree with me.

So I ask you, in a more calm and rational manner – what do you think?  Should funds earmarked for severe mental illness go to addiction?

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