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Mental Health Services Save Taxpayers Money

June 18, 2013

Government-subsidized therapy and medication for patients with mental illness saves taxpayers money in the long run, according to a study recently published online in Psychiatric Services.  

Researchers from North Carolina State University, the Research Triangle Institute, and the University of South Florida identified 4,056 people who were hospitalized with mental illness in 2004 or 2005 and followed them from 2005 to 2012. Researchers tracked who received government-subsidized mental health services such as therapy, who received government-subsidized medication, and who received no services or medication. They then compared incarceration rates among the groups.  

“Our research shows that people receiving medication were significantly less likely to be arrested,” said Sarah Desmarais, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and coauthor of the study. “Outpatient services also resulted in a decreased likelihood of arrest.”

When researchers compared the cost of government-subsidized services with the cost of incarceration, they found that providing mental health care services saved an average of $10 a day.  

In particular, people who received less mental health care incurred higher criminal justice costs, which averaged $95,000 per person during the 7-year study. People who received more mental health services had lower arrest rates and cost an average of $68,000 per person during the study span.

Research has established that a disproportionate percentage of people in the criminal justice system have mental health conditions. In this study, researchers sought to measure the extent that outpatient mental health care could help.  

Mental health services, concluded Desmarais, are a worthy investment all around.  

“This study shows that providing mental health care is not only in the best interest of people with mental illness, but in the best interests of society,” she said.

—Jolynn Tumolo  


1.  Van Dorn R, Desmarais S, Petrila J, et al. Effects of outpatient treatment on risk of arrest of adults with serious mental illness and associated costs. Psychiatric Services. 15 May 2013. [Epub ahead of print].

2.  Treatment of mental illness lowers arrest rates, saves money [press release]. Charlottesville, VA: Newswise; June 10, 2013.

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