More than 13,000 Howard County residents have a mental disability and are not institutionalized, leaving social service organizations in high demand.
The problem is the agencies are combating a cycle brought on by the economy, which has caused mental health groups to have some of the largest amounts of underserved clients.
According to the Howard County Health & Human Services Needs Assessment presented Monday, 25 out of 31 surveyed agencies have reported an increase in demand for their services.
Out of those same 31 groups, 24 reported increased costs.
The study also revealed 44.7 percent of “vulnerable” individuals surveyed said finances were their top issues. At second on the list, 26.3 percent of respondents said someone in their home had a mental health issue within the past six months.
Issues with mental health, behavior and addiction were also noted in interviews and a focus group with business, government and educational leaders.
“You begin to see a pattern here,” Brian O’Neill, president of O’Neill Research, said during the assessment’s presentation. “Focus group: mental health and addictions. Key informants: mental health and addictions.”
Money, Mental Health
Jill Snyder, director of Mental Health America of Howard County, described the relationship between the economy and MHA’s clients as a “vicious merry-go-round.”
As Howard County residents have lost their jobs over the last few years, they have struggled to cope with the losses.
“One thing triggers another,” Snyder said.
Someone might lose his job, then his house, so he becomes anxious or depressed, then he turns to MHA or another agency for help. Many other people are experiencing similar situations. Meanwhile, agencies are trying to keep up the care they have been offering to lifelong clients.
All of the demand for help is coming at a time when agencies are losing financial resources and cutting staff and services.
“I don’t mean to sound scary,” Snyder said, “but I don’t really see things getting better until the economy gets better, until there’s jobs.”
Having work helps people emotionally, O’Neill said.
“That’s the large picture,” he said. “It’s not income from a job. It’s dignity from a job.”
Many of the physical health issues addressed Monday tied into mental health, especially behaviors.
One of the findings of the needs assessment that O’Neill said caught his attention the most was the amount of cigarette smokers in Howard County.
According to the report, 27.9 percent of survey respondents said they smoked. The national rate is 19 percent. And almost one-third, or about 33 percent, of all the women who responded said they smoked.
Respondents, according to the report, were more likely to smoke if they were younger than 55, and the lower someone’s income, the more frequently they smoked.
Researchers also observed a lack of exercise in survey respondents.
Seventy percent of people in the report said they seldom or never exercise.
Many causes of death in which Howard County was ahead of the national average tied into behavior and diet.
In Howard County, 173.6 out of every 100,000 deaths were because of heart disease in 2000. That national rate was 154.
For lung cancer, Howard County was 62.7 and the nation was 52.6.
Stroke was 59.5 and 47 for the county and nation, respectively.
“All these diagnoses, they’re all directly related to mental health or they’re behavioral,” O’Neill said.