Second largest city

SAMHSA, the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, recently released its latest annual “Behavioral Health Equity Barometer.”

Though the “Barometer” attempted to put a positive spin on it, there was bad news about access to treatment.

SAMHSA estimates that 5.4% of the adult population in the United States—13,001,553 people—are “living with a serious mental illness.”

In this “Barometer,” SAMHSA reports that only 6,846,200 of those 13 million+ people received treatment in the past year. (Of course, neither SAMHSA nor anyone else knows the type, quantity, frequency, duration or effectiveness of that treatment. We do know that the people who “received treatment” included some, for example, who had only a two-minute assessment at a health fair, and people whose treatment is scientifically proven to be ineffective for their illness.)

If there are 13 million adult people living with mental illness, and slightly more than half—6,846,200—had even the briefest of “treatment,” that means there were at least 6,155,353 people who didn’t get treatment of any kind.

Here’s the arithmetic:

Let that sink in for a moment. Last year in the United States, at least 6,155,353 adult people with serious mental illness didn’t get treatment.

If that many people were a city, it would be the second largest city in the U.S.—more people than TWO Chicagos.


Be skeptical when you hear government agencies or treatment providers describing their service levels in percentages. The actual population numbers usually will give you a more accurate perception about the scale of the problem — this chart, for example, obscures the fact that more than 6 million people can’t get the treatment they need.


Why does it matter? Read more.