Nearly two-thirds of Marion County residents who needed treatment for a serious mental illness did not receive it in the past year due to lack of psychiatrists and therapists, along with other factors, a new study says.
More than 163,000 adults who live in the county had some type of mental illness and nearly 41,000 had a serious thought of suicide, according to the report, released Monday by researchers at Indiana University.
It’s the latest report to shine a light on large health-care gaps in Indiana, where anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, substance-abuse disorders and stress-related disorders continue to make headlines.
In recent months, other groups have pointed out that Indiana is facing a crisis in mental health. Last September, the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission said untreated mental illnesses cost the state $4.2 billion a year, as one in five Hoosiers live with a mental illness.
And, in July, the Wellness Council of Indiana reported that almost two-thirds of Hoosier employers knew they had employees struggling with mental health.
The latest report, called “Community Mental Health Needs Assessment Report for Marion County,” estimates that nearly 26,000 residents who needed treatment for a mental illness in 2022 did not receive it. That’s about 66% of those who needed some treatment.
Specific populations identified as vulnerable include people with housing instability or homelessness, incarcerated people, communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community, the study said.
“This can often be a difficult population to reach,” said Marion Greene, assistant professor in health policy and management at the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI. “Community mental health centers do a tremendous job reaching out and supporting this population. But the reality is that this is a resource-constrained environment, with a lot of good people doing work on shoestring budgets.”
The report comes a few months after the Indiana General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, which was designed to significantly increase funding for mental health care in Indiana. But funding was approved at about half of the proposed budget.
A major factor in the mental-health access gas is a workforce shortage. The report said that not enough staff are going into and staying in community mental health, and a big part of the current workforce is aging out.
“Having fewer staff limits an organization’s capacity to provide needed services,” it said. “This can lead to long wait times for clients, especially for those who need to see a psychiatrist.”
Another factor is the complexity of the mental health system, with different providers and not enough coordination. A lack of transportation or internet connection and equipment are yet other factors.
“Clients may not be able to see a therapist because they have no access to transportation,” the report said. “Telehealth is in some cases a viable option, however, not all services can be delivered virtually and not all clients have a laptop or computer or stable internet connection.”
The report was commissioned by Eskenazi Health, Community Fairbanks Behavioral Health, Adult & Child Health, and Aspire Indiana Health.