The need for mental health access has gained a lot of public attention recently. Many are calling for reform to ensure that mental health care is available for those who need it. However, there are a number of barriers to receiving mental health services. In order to successfully improve access each of them would need to be addressed. Let’s look at five of the biggest hurdles keeping Americans from being able to access mental health care.
Cost is one of the biggest barriers to receiving needed mental health care. In a cruel twist of irony, people dealing with mental illness are less likely to have insurance than individuals with no mental health issues. Similarly, is that even when an individual does have insurance or another type of financial assistance, mental healthcare can still be too expensive. Deductibles and co-pays can add up rather rapidly for diagnoses requiring complex medication management, regular therapy sessions, or other types of intensive treatment. The bottom line is that if the care is unaffordable, those who need it can’t access it. Furthermore, approximately 45% of Americans with untreated mental illness cite cost as the barrier that keeps them from care.
One might hope that by now we would be past the stigma of mental illness, but unfortunately that’s not the case. For some, the stigma is more personal, with their own beliefs about mental illness preventing them from accepting that they’re struggling. This causes them to not seek help or stick with treatment plans. For many others, fear of discrimination in social circles or professionally keeps them from addressing the problem. Compounding the issue are attitudes about mental health services that are available. Each of these pieces aid in keeping individuals in denial about their mental state.
Lack of Personnel in the Field
Currently, there is roughly one mental health professional for every 529 individuals in this country. These mental health professionals include psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists, advanced practice nurse who specialize in mental health care. Additionally, there are roughly 8,300 child psychiatrists. That may sound like a lot of child psychiatrists, but they are responsible for the care of over 15 million adolescents with mental health disorders. The shortage of professionals in the mental health field is worse than any other medical category. As a matter of fact, there are currently 89.3 million Americans living in areas designated by the federal government as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. There are six times the number of individuals in need of mental healthcare access as there are professionals in these areas. This is an enormous barrier to mental health care.
Education and Awareness
Oftentimes, the barrier to treatment is how long it takes an individual to realize that they’re experiencing a mental illness. These conditions can be hard to recognize and many of the symptoms can be written off as personality or attitude characteristics. What is truly clinical anxiety can be explained away as worrying too much. Clinical depression can often appear to just be laziness. Quite simply, if a person doesn’t realize they have a problem they’re not going to seek help to solve it.
There are significant differences in access to mental healthcare among different racial groups. Despite all of the barriers listed before, a majority of Caucasians experiencing severe psychological distress typically get treatment. However, they are the only racial group in which this is true. Minorities often have a greater likelihood of earning a lower income, and they are less likely to be able to find doctors of their same race to provide treatment. Also, minorities are less likely to realize they have a condition that necessitates treatment.
Seeking mental health care is a delicate situation. People are less likely to pursue treatment if they believe their provider can’t understand their background or empathize with their experiences based on cultural differences. It’s also an unfortunate fact that some doctors have the tendency to discriminate against patients in minority groups. Unfortunately, the reality that minority groups are less likely to receive the mental healthcare they may need sets them up to struggle more in society. This creates a cycle that continues to perpetuate this barrier.
Each of these hurdles causes an enormous issue. They keep Americans from being able to access the mental healthcare they need. This has effects that go beyond the personal, ultimately affecting all of society. We must combat these hurdles and work to make mental healthcare accessible to everyone who needs it.