Report Connects Lack of Health Insurance with Depression, Suicide
> 11/28/2007 11:42:06 AM

When left untreated, mental illness can have a devastating effect on a person's ability to function and in some cases can even lead to suicide. According to the advocacy group Mental Health America, about 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year, and 30-70% of them suffered from major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. A report commissioned by Mental Health America demonstrates that one of the most important steps we can take toward reducing those numbers is to increase the number of Americans with health insurance.

The report used data on depression and suicide rates from every state to create a "depression index" which presents the prevalence of depression and suicide by state. States with more uninsured residents had higher rates of depression, and suicide rates were two to four times higher in these states. In states with low rates of depression and suicide, residents tended to be more affluent, have greater access to health care, and receive more mental health treatment. Many of these states also have laws in place ensuring that mental illnesses and physical illnesses receive equal insurance coverage. The top five states were South Dakota, Hawaii, New Jersey, Iowa, and Maryland, while the worst five states were Nevada, Rhode Island, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Utah.

The report is not without flaws, however. Because it only examined rates of depression and suicide by state, the report overlooks other factors that differ by state, and it may ultimately be oversimplifying a very complex problem. Suicide rates are higher, for instance, in isolated areas and in areas where residents have greater access to guns, and these factors contribute to the high rates of suicide in rural and Western states.

Although the report does not demonstrate a causal link between lack of insurance and depression or suicide, it does illustrate the importance of improving Americans' access to health care. According to the U.S Census Bureau, the number of Americans without insurance rose from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47 million in 2006. Lack of insurance presents individuals with one more barrier to treatment, but when more are insured and have ready access to mental health care, the number of Americans living with untreated mental illness will hopefully decrease.

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