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Mental Health/Substance Abuse

Mental illness continues to be a matter of concern in the District of Columbia. For example, from 2005-2010, the average number of people suffering from major depressive episodes within Washington, DC, was higher than the national average of adults suffering from the same.[1]

In the past decade, Washington, DC, has consistently seen among the highest rates of illicit drug use of any American state or district.[2] Per a 2011 report issued by the NSDUH, 12.9% of Washington DC’s total population was diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder in 2010.[3]

Per a 2009 SAMHSA report, approximately 10.3% of adolescents within the District of Columbia had engaged in illicit drug use over a one month period, and 3.1% of area youth were in serious need of treatment for substance abuse which they did not receive.[4]

During the 2012 Fiscal Year, approximately 35,000 residents of the District of Columbia were treated for mental health or substance abuse disorders. The DC Department of Behavioral Health estimated that up to 50% of these patients were simultaneously receiving treatment for mental health and substance abuse related issues during this period.

To this day there is a stigma surrounding mental illness which may prevent those most in need of aid from seeking the treatment that is critical to their health. A range of factors—from fear of losing medical insurance to concerns about judgment and discrimination at work or school—can easily prevent an individual from reaching out.[6]

The National Alliance on Mental Illness found that when left unaddressed, mental illness may put an individual at higher risk for the development of chronic illnesses, or lead them down a path towards unemployment, hospitalization, incarceration, or suicide.[7] As long as a negative stigma continues to cloud the national dialogue on mental health, a number of individuals will go without critical treatments, subjecting themselves to unnecessary risks.

Call to Action

There has been an increased focus on the quality of care that DC Department of Behavioral Health consumers receive. We encourage the Department to continue to work towards this goal by: implementing mechanisms to improve training of Community Service Workers; adopt new indicators for “fidelity reports” that measure not only process, but outcomes; and create a system that holds providers accountable and promotes high quality service.

For a comprehensive list of community based support services, please visit the District of Columbia’s home site for the Department of Behavioral Health at: