Urgent: Studies Show That Mental Illness Is on the Rise In New York But Psychiatric Resources Are Scarce

The mental health needs of New Yorkers have greatly increased. Between 2013 and 2022, there was a 23% increase in the number of individuals served by the state’s public mental health system. According to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the rising need for mental health services coincided with a 10.5% drop in capacity in inpatient psychiatric facilities statewide between April 2014 and December 2023.

“Increased mental health services are urgently needed to meet the rising demand for care,” DiNapoli said. “With the COVID pandemic behind us, New York must redouble its efforts to restore inpatient psychiatric bed capacity and preserve and expand telehealth services.”

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, community hospitals in New York City closed an estimated 20% of their inpatient psychiatric beds to accommodate the need for increased medical capacity, according to OMH. In Dec. 2023, there were 3,999 inpatient psychiatric beds in New York City and 4,458 in the rest of the state. The ratio of beds to population was approximately 1 to 2,084 in New York City and 1 in 2,544 in the rest of the state. There were 20 counties, with a total population of 898,895, that had no psychiatric inpatient beds at all. 

The number of New Yorkers living with any mental illness (AMI) has increased in recent years, according to the state Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA). According to SAMHSA’s data, there were more than 3.2 million adult New Yorkers with AMI in 2021-2022 with 30% being 18 to 25-year-olds. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), AMI encompasses all recognized mental illnesses and is defined as a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that can vary from no impairment to mild, moderate and even severe impairment. 

The estimated occurrence of serious mental illness (SMI), defined by NIMH as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment that interferes with one or more major life activities, was nearly 5.1% in 2021-2022, or about 783,000 New Yorkers. For those between 18 and 25 years of age the rate was 8.6%.

In January 2023, OMH and the state Department of Health sent a letter to community hospitals directing them to reopen approximately 850 beds. Hospitals were required to reopen the beds by Feb. 10, 2023 or submit a plan to reopen them by April 1, 2023. By April 17, 2023, only 222 out of 843 offline beds had returned to operational status. In Dec. 2023, the reopening of a total of nearly 500 psychiatric beds taken offline during the pandemic was announced; however, details regarding these beds have not been released.

Photo Credit: New York Post 

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