Mental health treatment is as important as physical health treatment. More people are reaching out to mental health professionals to get the help they need. While there is significant progress, individuals still face barriers to treatment such as costs, stigma, and accessibility.
The success of a treatment plan requires regular access to professionals and support services, stated Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that empowers communities across the globe. But with barriers to treatment, how can people seek proper help?
Stronger Demand for Mental Health Services but Accessibility Is Stymied By Cost and Stigma
Of 5,024 Americans, 56% (141 million) would want mental health services either for themselves or for a loved one, per a 2018 survey commissioned by not-for-profit organization Cohen Veterans Network and mental health and addiction provider National Council for Behavioral Health, as cited by Alex Kacik of Modern Healthcare, a healthcare business and policy news platform. About three-quarters or about 76% noted access issues, with 34% citing cost or poor insurance coverage.
25% had to choose between getting mental health treatment and paying for their daily needs. 17% reported having to choose between getting treatment for a physical condition and a mental health condition due to cost. If the respondents afforded it, 38% (96 million Americans) would have to wait longer than seven days for mental health treatments and 46% had to or know someone who had to drive over an hour round-trip to their appointment.
While treatment for mental health conditions is accepted, 52% of Americans tried to “grin and bear it” instead of seeing a professional when depressed or mentally unstable. 26% tried seeking out mental health services, but found it too hard to figure out where to reach out. 31% were worried about others judging them when they told them they have sought mental health services. 21% lied to avoid telling people they have sought such services. The figures showed that many Americans felt overwhelmed or ashamed when looking for treatment.
Such barriers prompted Americans to turn to more accessible but less credible and anonymous information sources. Of those who wanted to seek treatment for themselves or their loved one, more Americans would turn to online searches (40% versus 30%) and health information websites for information on mental health services (36% versus 28%). However, the respondents reported low levels of trust. Moreover, the respondents would likely wish that their insurance plans covered appointments with a mental health professional (40% versus 32%).
Americans sought treatment because 62% said “I was unhappy,” 54% reported “I had severe anxiety,” 49% said “I didn’t feel like myself,” and 44% said “I didn’t feel like myself.” 29% also mentioned “My mental health was harming my physical health” and “My family/friends were concerned about my wellbeing.”
Telehealth can be an option for mental health treatment, with 65% of Americans saying they have at least heard about it for mental health issues. Of those who have heard it, 10% have tried using telehealth services for health issues. Meanwhile, 45% of those who have not tried telehealth would be open to using it for any current or future mental health needs.
Younger Americans were unsure of resources and more affected by the stigma of mental health care, with 87% of Gen Z and Millennials seeking information on mental health versus 78% of Gen X and 66% of Boomers.
Gen Z (38%) was most likely to seek mental health treatment, followed by 26% of Millennials, 20% of Gen X, and 12% of Boomers. Gen Z (45%) was most likely to say that their mental health was affecting their physical health compared with Millennials (31%) and Gen X (29%).
Unlike 30% of Gen X and 20% of Boomers, Gen Z (49%) and Millennials (40%) were most likely to express worry about being judged by others when they say they have sought mental health services.
What Are The Top Barriers to Seeking Mental Health Treatment?
In low and middle-income countries—for instance—the cost of psychiatric treatment due to high medication prices is a financial barrier to those seeking treatment. Mental disorders are also not covered by insurance in many countries, making treatment even more unaffordable by people. Like in the aforementioned survey, more respondents wished mental health was part of their insurance plan.
Sadly, 25% of countries failed to provide disability benefits to patients with mental disorders and one-third of the global population lives in countries that dedicate less than 1% of the health budget to mental health.
2. Limited Availability of Medication and Health Professionals
Limited availability of essential medicines is common in developing countries, restricting people’s access to treatment for mental health illnesses. There is also the lack of mental health professionals, which is more prevalent in low and middle-income countries, with the former having a median of 0.05 psychiatrists and 0.16 psychiatric nurses per 100,000 people.
Anthony Hassan, president and CEO of Cohen Veterans Network, noted that along with prohibitive cost, mental health providers are also overworked. For example, some CEOs of community health centers operate on “shoestring budgets” that hinder those centers from hiring skilled staff, utilize evidence-based practices, and take advantage of new technologies in treatment.
3. Lack of Education and Preference for Self-Reliance
According to a literature review by Gulliver et al., young people do not have any idea how to identify the difficulties they face beyond the “normal threshold of storm and stress. This was cited ReachOut.com, a platform that helps youths about mental health.
This shows that in both developing and developed countries, limited knowledge about mental illnesses hinders people from recognizing the signs of mental illness and seeking treatment. Further, poor understanding of mental illness prevents families from providing adequate care for mentally ill relatives.
On the other hand, the youth tend to show a lack of trust with regard to the potential source of help. They fear a breach of confidentiality, a distrust of the credibility or authenticity of providers, judgmental perceptions, and a lack of familiarity
Public, perceived, and self-stigmatizing attitudes to mental illness harbor feelings of embarrassment and fear of seeking help about mental health or even identifying with a mental illness. In youths, they are most likely to be concerned about what others might think of them if they sought help. One ReachOut.com focus group participant said, “Because you can't see it, it's not real. Unless I'm in physical pain, there's no reason to go seek help."
Everyone, young or old, has the right to seek accessible, affordable mental health treatment. Mental health literacy should be promoted to help patients to gain more knowledge about mental illnesses. Those who seek treatment should not be stigmatized or judged as “weak.” Remember, mental health is equally important as physical health because they are vital to our overall wellbeing.