Report finds one-third of Utahans suffer with mental illness, many not receiving care

A new report conducted by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Hospital Association shows that there are massive gaps in mental health treatment in the state. The report shows that while more than one third of Utahans suffer with mental illness, less than half seek mental health care. 

The lack of care is a result of a shortage of providers combined with high rates of mental illness in the state, the report finds. A 2018 report found that the state was ranked 51st in the nation for mental health metrics and access. And, the increasing shortage is likely to increase given new Medicaid expansion policies in the state. 

 “A newly expanded Medicaid program coupled with a rapidly growing state population will intensify the effects of existing shortages,” the report explains. 

Data in the report shows that almost 15 percent of males and 28.5 percent of females age 15-17 seriously considered attempting suicide in 2015-2017. 

A similar trend is apparent within children populations in the state. Nearly 40% of children who suffer from mental illness in the state do not receive mental health care. Only two counties in the state have child psychologists. 

“The ratio of child psychiatrists per 100,000 children in Utah is particularly low. Most counties have no access to a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist unless they travel to a different county for services (Figure 7). The statewide ratio is six adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children.11 Only Idaho and South Dakota have a lower ratio than Utah,” the report explains. 

The number of Utahans with mental illness has also risen considerably over the last 5 years. From 2009 to 2015 the rate of mental illness hovered around 15.3. From 2016 to 2017, however, the rate rose to 16.5. 

A factor in these rates are the funding for mental health in the state. The report explains that the bifurcated system of funding system makes care coordination between physical and mental health difficult. At the same time, commercial health insurance coverage of mental health is limited in the state which results in expensive out-of-pocket costs. 

The report also explains the relationship between income and mental health. A third of Utahans with incomes lower than $25,000 explained that they had suffered from mental illness at some point. 

The report explains what an ideal mental health system would look like, and lists a set of requirements that a perfect system would have. These include integration of physical and mental health, consistent mental health screenings, and additional avenues to access care.