Report: Mental health inequalities could cost U.S. $14 trillion in next 16 years

Mental health inequalities could cost the U.S. economy $14 trillion from now until 2040, according to a report from a Nashville-based medical school, supported by Princeton-based Otsuka America Pharmaceutical.

The report, labeled “The Projected Costs and Economic Impact of Mental Health Inequities in the United States,” builds on landmark findings of a 2022 report called “The Economic Burden of Mental Health Inequities in the United States.” The latter report reviewed a four-year period from 2016-20 in which the U.S. saw nearly 117,000 preventable deaths and an excess of over $278 billion was spent in the absence of proper investment in mental health care for underserved communities.

The new report from Meharry School of Global Health indicates the U.S. spends an estimated $477.5 billion per year in avoidable expenses relating to mental health inequalities. The research found that excess spending could climb to $1.3 trillion per year by 2040.

The report assessed 10 expenditures across four categories — chronic conditions, premature death, emergency department utilization and productivity loss — to predict the excess costs arising from mental health inequities. The report also analyzed disparities of care for patients across various racial and ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status and age, analyzing disparities as they related to each of the four main health categories.

Lower-income individuals and minority populations bear a disproportionate burden of both mental health and chronic conditions, which are intrinsically connected, exacerbating the economic challenges they face and contributing to continued productivity loss, according to the report.

The report also found that mental health conditions greatly impact the trajectory of other chronic diseases in the U.S., including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and HIV.

The findings of this report highlight the need for policy changes in the U.S. health care system, including increasing access to mental health care and driving models that seek to recognize and fully integrate physical and mental health conditions. Policymakers may use this research as a roadmap to design new legislation that addresses gaps in care. The Meharry School of Global Health offers the following cross-sector approach for federal and state policymakers who work closely with the private sector and academia:

  • Congress and federal policymakers should continue to strengthen and enforce mental health parity provisions to ensure better coverage for mental health treatments and incentivize regular mental health screenings;
  • Congress, along with state and federal health agencies, should assess how existing reimbursement and coverage policies may create unintended barriers to treatment for those struggling to access the broader health care system;
  • Academia should partner with policymakers to collaborate on workforce-focused initiatives designed to build a larger and more diverse workforce for mental health providers across the continuum;
  • Local governments should incentivize mental health providers to join their communities, execute programs to drive awareness and access and other critical resources to the places where they are most needed and least found.

Otsuka North America Pharmaceutical Business CEO Tarek Rabah stressed the importance of combating health care inequality.

“This sobering research by the School of Global Health Meharry Medical College continues to shine a bright light on the enormous economic and social challenges that the acute mental health crisis in America represents,” Rabah said. “This is especially true for minority populations that find it harder to access proper health care.

“As a country, we must address the mental health inequities that are causing massive human and economic burden. Through our continued support of important research like this latest report, Otsuka is continuing our commitment to working with stakeholders in the mental health community to help rebuild our mental health care system with the hope of offering a more integrated, equitable experience for anyone seeking care in the future.”

Senior Vice President of the Meharry School of Global Health Daniel Dawes expressed the urgency required to combat the ever-growing health care inequality cap.

“In our first report, tangible evidence demonstrated how decades of systemic health inequities have yielded significantly worse outcomes for minority populations,” Dawes said. “This latest study shows the critical urgency around the mental health crisis in the U.S. and monetizes the magnitude of neglect. If we don’t act, mental health inequities will cost the U.S. economy trillions over the next two decades.”