The city of Houston loses more than $5.6 billion every year in total productivity and annual earnings as a result of serious mental illness. This statistic comes as part of a new study on the consequences of untreated mental illness from the Mental Health Policy Analysis Collaborative at The University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. The two-year project was funded by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

The study began in 2009 as part of the Hogg Foundation’s effort to foster a broad policy discussion around mental illness throughout Texas. Additionally, the study looks at public funding, the rationing of services, and mental health services under Medicaid (electronic version currently unavailable).

Resources are severely lacking for individuals with mental illness living in Harris County. The study notes that more than half of the 181,000 children and adults in Houston with a serious mental illness cannot access either public or private services. An estimated 81% of children and adolescents under Medicaid receive no treatment whatsoever for their mental illness.

With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act set to take effect in 2014, the study also outlines the many benefits of expanded Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage for mental illness. Currently, Texas ranks 1st among states in percentage of the population that is uninsured (26.1% uninsured as of 2009). Expanded coverage under the  federal act will likely see decreased utilization of costly emergency center services as well as a decrease in jail overcrowding due to inappropriate incarceration of individuals with mental illness. Currently, well over 25% of the people incarcerated in the Harris County jail have a mental illness. Caring for this population comes at an annual cost of $48 million. The collaborative’s study estimates that appropriate outpatient care would cost the county less than half that amount.

Whatever your stance on public funding for mental health services, the study goes a long way to provoking informed discussion around how to fairly and efficiently treat the estimated 665,000 individuals in Houston experiencing some form of mental illness.