People in serious psychological distress are three times more likely to be too poor to afford general healthcare, and 10 times more likely to be too poor to pay for medications, compared with people who are not mentally ill, according to research published in the journal Psychiatric Services.
Judith Weissman, lead author of the study and a research manager at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, found that 3.4% of adult Americans, or more than 8.3 million people, suffered serious psychological distress in 2014.
“What’s been most surprising isn’t necessarily that the overall numbers have increased but that the cohort that is most impacted has changed,” Weissman said. “There’s a newfound high-risk group: middle-aged adults; that’s adults from about the age of 45 to 59 in the US, who previously had not been thought to be at high risk for mental illness or suicide, and now we’re finding that they are.”
“Serious psychological distress is a validated scale — it’s well-regarded — that is used in national surveys to measure the mental health of the community,” Weissman said.
Respondents are asked about six negative emotional states: sadness, feeling worthless, being unable to make efforts, nervousness, feeling fidgety and exhaustion.
When validating this scale, psychologists have found that the number of people in serious psychological distress corresponds to the number of people with a diagnosis of a serious mental illness.
Over the course of surveys from 2006 to 2014, she and her colleagues found that access to healthcare services deteriorated for people suffering from psychological distress compared with those without serious distress.
About three in 10 with serious psychological distress did not have insurance, compared to about two in 10 without mental illness, the researchers found.
The study may help explain why the suicide rate is up to 43,000 people each year, said Weissman, who noted that the affected groups are late baby boomers and Generation Xers, those “that some have described as experiencing not a better horizon but a worse horizon than their parents,” she said.