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Mental Health Services

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Did You Know?

Nearly a quarter of homeless DC residents suffer from a severe mental illness.

More than 11% of DC adults experienced serious psychological distress in 2005–6.

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Facts and Figures

Explore the Issues

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The Problem

Mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and premature death in the US. It affects about one in four adults in any given year. It is even more prevalent among low-income individuals. Treatment can enable many to secure and retain employment and thus become self-sufficient.

Yet, the District does not include a mental health benefit in DC HealthCare Alliance—its health insurance program for low-income residents not eligible for Medicaid. For them, the only alternatives are the District's mental health system and nonprofit clinics, like SOME's, that provide mental health services using funds from private sources.

The District's mental health system serves primarily the 30–40% of low-income residents with serious and persistent mental illnesses. The nonprofit clinics have a limited capacity to serve the rest because the Alliance does not reimburse even part of the costs of care.

The Department of Mental Health has proposed phasing out most of the community-based mental health services it directly provides and using the savings to expand its private provider network. Under its plan, all Alliance members would be eligible for services.

This would significantly strengthen the District's safety net, enable more nonprofit clinics to provide holistic health care, reduce costly emergency room visits and hospital stays and enable more low-income residents to join or remain in the workforce, thus increasing local tax revenues.