Washington State’s overall mental health condition is concerning, and King County sees the worst of it. On a scale ranking each state’s prevalence of mental illness, South Dakota was ranked as having the lowest number of mental illness cases at number one, and Oregon has the most cases of mental illness at number fifty-one. On this scale, Washington ranked at number forty-one (Mental Health America, 2016), showing that Washington State is clearly facing a mental health issue. Beyond that, King County faces a bigger problem. Out of the total cases of mental illness in Washington, thirty-two percent of them are concentrated in King County, which is by far the largest county-wide concentration in the state (University of Washington School of Social Work, 2003).
King County’s poor mental health status is often attributed to Washington’s lack of Vitamin D, but this is not necessarily the main cause. Vitamin D regulates your immune system, as well as the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Without Vitamin D, these neurotransmitters can become unbalanced, which does negatively effect your mental health, however Vitamin D deficiency is common in Washington and it is very easily treated (Rachel, P., 2017).
There are many possible reasons for King County’s poor mental health status, but one of the biggest is poverty. Mental health and poverty are almost always intertwined. This is because mental illness can be both a cause and a result of poverty simultaneously, and poverty can be both a cause and result of mental illness, simultaneously as well. When this happens continuously or simultaneously, a cycle of mental illness and poverty starts that can be difficult to break. Many people find themselves in poverty because of things like injuries, disabilities, addictions, and other things that may prevent working. However, some people have genetically passed mental illnesses that hinder their working abilities, and may result in poverty. For others, it is living in poverty that causes these hindering mental illnesses. In Washington, 11.3 percent of people live in poverty, 9.6 percent of which are concentrated in the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma metropolitan area. Family poverty rates are even higher, at 13.7 percent of Washington children living in poverty, 11.9 percent of which are located in the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma area. (Romich, 2017).
A bigger cause surrounding mental health in King County is Washington’s overall access to mental health care. On a national scale, Washington is ranked at number twenty-eight. This doesn’t seem concerning, until you take into account where we fell on the scale ranking prevalence of mental health care. Oregon, who had the most cases of mental illness in the country, was ranked as having the twelfth best access to health care in the country, which shows they are making it a priority. Vermont is ranked at number one for access to mental health care in the country, which is impressive and important considering they are ranked at number forty-six for prevalence of mental illness. Since Washington is on the low end of the mental health prevalence scale at number forty-one, we should have some of the best and most accessible health care in the country. In reality, our access to care falls significantly behind other states that have a similar number of cases of mental illness (Mental Health America, 2016), meaning that a lot of Washington citizens suffering from mental illness are not receiving treatment. Washington State’s lack of access to mental health care undoubtedly plays a significant roll in its high numbers of mental illness.
While the reason for King County’s concentration of both poverty and mental illness is likely because a large percent of Washington’s total population is concentrated in this area, it means a large amount of the responsibility to solve these issues falls on King County. Currently, King County provides “publicly funded mental health services to low-income people that qualify,” but these qualifications were not listed or made clear in any way. Additionally, their philosophy only focuses on recovery (King County, 2017). This undoubtedly leaves some people in need of mental health care out of their “qualifications,” and some likely get the care they need too late. To solve this problem, I propose that King County adds prevention and education to its mental health focus in the low-income communities. This will not only help break the cycle of mental illness and poverty, but possibly prevent the cycle from ever beginning.
It is important to clarify that education is one of the most important parts of prevention. Many people suffering from mental illnesses never seek treatment because they are unaware that they have a mental illness. Often times when this happens, those suffering fall into the cycle of poverty and additional mental illness before they realize something is wrong. Education about mental health care can help prevent this from happening. Overall, national mental health awareness and education is increasing, but it remains the lowest in low-income areas, which are the areas that need it the most because of their high concentrations of mental illnesses. Mental heath education in low-income communities and schools is needed so people can recognize their symptoms and seek help before their conditions become chronic. King County also needs to educate low-income communities about the costs associated with mental health, because even if people recognize their symptoms, financial factors can prevent them from getting the care they need. I addressed earlier that King County needs to specifically educate low-income communities about what the qualifications are to receive publicly funded mental health care, and who would qualify.
Switching King County’s mental health care focus from treatment to prevention would involve many benefits. One of these benefits is decreased suffering and premature mortality rates. Premature mortality rates in the mentally ill are often tied to drug overdoses and suicide, which are also common in low-income areas. This is because those in poverty who suffer from mental illnesses experience a great deal of suffering, which many try to drown out with drugs, and may accidently or purposefully overdose. This is not a pleasant life for anyone, and constant suffering can result in their illnesses turning chronic, which means they will be even harder to treat. If King County focuses on prevention, this can be avoided.
Another benefit of prevention is higher productivity. Without a mental illness, or without a mental illness that is bad enough to hinder your ability to work and hold a job, it is less likely that someone at risk of mental illness will fall into or stay in poverty. This means the cycle of repeating mental illness and poverty may be avoided.
Finally, lower treatment costs will also be a benefit. It is very expensive to give long-term treatment to someone who has developed a chronic mental illness. If King County focuses on education and prevention, the costs saved from treating chronic patients can be dedicated to reaching more people for the purpose of prevention.
King County. (2017, October 27). King County Mental Health Services. Retrieved April 29, 2018, from https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/community-human-services/mental-health-substance-abuse/services/mental-health.aspx
Mental Health America. (2016, October 17). Ranking the States. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states
National Research Council (US) and Institute of Medicine(US) Committee on the Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse AmongChildren. (1970, January 01). Benefits and Costs of Prevention. Retrieved April 29, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK32767/
P., Rachel. (2017, October 20). Vitamin D Deficiency Effects on Your Mental Health. Retrieved April 29, 2018, from https://brookhavenretreat.com/cms/blog-22/item/3025-vitamin-d-symptoms-effects-on-mental-health
Paz, T. (2018, March 18). Five Ways Poverty Hurts Mental Health. Retrieved April 29, 2018, from http://www.borgenmagazine.com/ways-poverty-hurts-mental-health/
Romich, J. (2017, September 14). Poverty decreases, income increases in Seattle area and Washington state. Retrieved April 29, 2018, from https://www.washington.edu/news/2017/09/14/poverty-decreases-income-increases-in-seattle-area-and-washington-state/
University of Washington School of Social Work. (2003). WA State Specific Fact Sheets:. Retrieved April 29, 2018, from http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/WA_facts_prevalence.php