Mental Illness: The REAL Cost to Americans – SSDI vs. Prison

February 5, 2014 Updated: April 24, 2016

As of December 2013, the official numbers for disability benefits were released from the Federal Social Security Administration. The current number of people in the United States receiving federal Social Security Benefits has reached a record 10,988,269. The largest diagnostic group of over 35.5 percent of disabled Americans receiving monthly benefits are for mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and 14.7 percent receive disability for various disabling mood-disorders.

The breakdown for disability recipients includes 8,942,584 disabled workers, 1,888,624 children of disabled workers and 157,061 spouses of disabled workers. Within these groups, people over 62-65 years old and mentally and physically disabled citizens are included.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, people with disabling brain disorders receive and average of $900 – $1,146.43 per month, depending on previous work history of the applicant and/or parents or spouse. Most Social Security Disability insurance comes with additional benefits, Medicare and Supplimental Security Income with Medicaid. This assistance to mentally disabled populations is critical because the provision of medical coverage, money for medications that control and regulate their mental status, and counseling assistance to help maintain their disorder symptoms, keep them from becoming chronically homeless and from total deterioration.

Social Security benefits for Americans with disabling brain disorders like schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, manic depression (bi-polar), and other diagnoses, can be life-giving tools for families of these stricken individuals. Financial and medical aid helps these families cope with draining responsibilities, caring for mentally ill family members, this is hope and assistance in providing them with a dignity of life-style.

Opponents of this method of caring for our disabled American population, whether it be elderly, ex-military, orphaned, widowed, physically or mentally handicapped, will claim we are spending too much on helping this unfortunate segment of our country. What other options would they propose instead of this Social Security Plan? Prison? Institutionalization? These people with overwhelming problems have no where to go, they are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, cousins and children of our “hard-working American citizens”.

Prison? Well, let’s take a look at how well that solution is working for us currently.
The Wall Street Journal attempted a study of all 50 states to examine the mental health issues within the prison populations. Only 22 states would respond to WSJ’s appeal for documentation. Perhaps issues of mal-treatment of mentally ill inmates and increasing suicide rates discouraged voluntary reporting in some states. It’s unnerving to see the lack of responsible training for police officers and penitentiary guards with regard to differences in mind-sets of mentally ill and prisoners who are intentionally threatening and belligerent. 

Of the reporting states, resulting figures showed ratios of prisoner to mentally ill inmates ranged from “one-out-of-every-ten” prisoners to “one-out-of-every-two” (half) prisoners were non-violent mentally ill patients receiving some sort of medication and some level of medical care. The total results for reporting states found 55 percent mentally ill to 45 percent serious criminals in their prisons. In fact, with the implimentation of early release programs in various states, numbers of seriously criminal offenders in prison populations are reducing while mentally ill – non-violent population increased by over 13 percent. The Cost estimated by our nations leading advocacy research group, the National Alliance on Mental Illness determined we spend $9 Billion American dollars annually on housing mentally ill in our countries prisons.

In the 1970’s, society was horrified about inhumane treatment of mentally ill patients, they insisted on closures of offending mental health institutions and sanitariums. The result, between 1970 and 1989, tens of thousands of non-functioning, institutionalized adults, (“institutionalized” – meaning patients living for 45 years or more in these places, were trained to line-up for their medication, then wander through rooms of 50 or more “zombie-like” humans in various stages of nakedness and illness), weresuddenly dumped on the streets of United States cities.

Anyone visiting the back Wards or Upper Floors of today’s US prisons would find these prisons now have taken the place of those institutions. Only, mentally ill in prisons are being treated officially as prisoners not patients.