Each first week of October, Americans all across the country take time to reflect on an issue which is increasingly recognized as impacting everyone, whether it be directly as it does me, or indirectly through a family member or friend: mental illness. Mental Illness Awareness Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about the impacts of mental illness and to better understand and educate communities about what it means to face a mental illness, deal with significant moments of stress throughout one’s life or help loved ones navigate similar challenges.
Mental illnesses represent a wide spectrum of conditions including, for example, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental illness impacts a broad array of the population with nearly one in five American adults living with a mental illness, with young adults 18-25 years of age having the highest prevalence of mental illness at 30.6%. Each of these illnesses often varies in its degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe, and may also occur together. Regardless of severity, mental illness impacts everyday activities and can interfere with our personal and professional relationships.
The United States is facing a crisis of mental health that has left few unaffected by these illnesses and the devastating consequences often associated with them. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated all these trends. Today, two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression. This is up from one in 10 prior to the pandemic. Emergency room visits for suicide attempts are also 26% higher compared to prior to the pandemic. And in September of 2022, The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended for the first-time adults under age 65 receive a screening for anxiety.
When it comes to researching mental illnesses, they often can also be among the most challenging conditions. In fact, researching and developing medicines to treat psychiatric conditions have some of the lowest probabilities of success in drug development. These challenges are due to a poor understanding of the processes underlying many of these diseases and mechanisms driving treatment response as well as the extremely diverse nature of these diseases themselves, which often manifest very differently in different people. For these reasons, mental illnesses are also often difficult to treat requiring patients to sometimes try several different treatment approaches, including different medicines, before finding the treatment plan that works best for each individual patient.
Despite these challenges, over the years biopharmaceutical research companies have brought forward many new treatments for mental illnesses helping millions of Americans successfully manage their illnesses and live healthy and productive lives. Looking forward, our industry remains committed to advancing research and development to improve Americans’ mental health with nearly 140 medicines in development to treat mental illness.
Biopharmaceutical companies are further advancing research to better understand the underlying causes of mental illnesses as well as pursuing the identification of biomarkers that could help clinicians diagnose mental health disorders earlier. Understanding the origin and underlying pathophysiology of mental illness could also inform more targeted approaches designed for individual patients and the drivers of their illness.
While mental illnesses can affect anyone at any time, not everyone has access to adequate mental health care. In fact, less than half of adults with mental illness receive treatment.
Our recent Patient Experience Survey found increasingly patients are experiencing barriers to adequate care. The survey found:
- 61% of insured Americans managing a mental health condition taking prescription medicines are concerned t the medicines will be subject to formulary exclusion, compared to just 47% of insured Americans taking prescription medicines.
- 56% of insured Americans managing a mental health condition taking prescription medicines are concerned they would have to wait for their insurer to provide prior authorization for a medicine their doctor prescribed, compared with 42% of insured Americans taking prescription medicines.
- 33% of insured Americans managing a mental health condition have difficulty understanding, anticipating and navigating their insurance coverage, compared with 22% of insured Americans overall.
- At the same time, 94% of insured Americans managing a mental health condition want more predictability in their out-of-pocket costs so that they know how much they will pay for things like prescription drugs every month.
As we reflect on mental illnesses, we also must have open and honest conversations about their impact. This year's theme for Mental Illness Awareness Week is “What I Wish I Had Known” focusing on the lived experience. In my own life, I wish I had known earlier in my life to ask for help and to not feel embarrassed about doing so — in fact, asking for help is a sign of bravery and should be commended.
Looking to the future we all must prioritize mental health, work to reduce the stigma that is often associated with these conditions, and find bipartisan solutions to address this emerging public health threat facing the U.S.
Read more on how insured Americans managing a mental illness are struggling to navigate their insurance coverage, more so than insured patients without a mental illness here.