The High Costs of Untreated Mental Illness in Colorado Keep Piling Up

Health care costs, many of them preventable, rank among the highest indirect impacts of mental illness, an analysis by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News has found.

Medical expenses associated with mental illness reached an estimated $2 billion in Colorado in 2013, according to 2005 figures from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, updated for growth and inflation.

Lost wages cost even more. Workers with mental disorders earn $16,000 less per person, according to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. I-News estimates Colorado’s share of these lost wages at $2.9 billion.

The costs keep piling up: $425 million for disability pay in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration; $62 million in state education spending for children with emotional disorders in 2012; $44.7 million to hold inmates with mental illnesses in seven county jails, according to a 2010 City of Denver survey of the metro-Denver counties; $28 million budgeted this year to treat state prison inmates.

“We’re spending a lot of money on mental health, but in all the wrong places,” says Moe Keller, a former state legislator who is now an advocate with Mental Health America of Colorado. “We’re spending an inordinate amount of money in jails because we’re not treating mental health as a physical health issue, in courts because we’re not treating mental health as a physical health issue, in emergency rooms, in prisons.”

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