The US healthcare landscape is ever changing due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Modifications to the law change healthcare delivery and provide access to insurance coverage to a large population of the previously uninsured. One of the largest underserved populations includes those with mental illnesses. In 2013 alone, an estimated 43.8 million US adults (18 or older) had a diagnosed mental illness. Mental illness is a condition in which alterations to thinking, mood or behavior (or a combination thereof) are associated with impaired functioning and/or distress.
Research shows that mental illnesses can have a strong influence on the occurrence, successful treatment and course of chronic illnesses including diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as risk behaviors like physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking and obesity (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This leads to an increase in visits to healthcare providers and emergency departments (EDs). According to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, many states reduced their mental health spending by $4.35 billion between 2009 and 2012. Due to all the funding cuts, “hospitals are closing psychiatric units, and outpatient services are contracting or closing altogether.”