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Top Five Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

In Collaboration with King's University School of Psychology

Today, one in five people in the United States experience a mental health condition which is equivalent to approximately 40 million Americans, but only 41% of adults with a mental health condition actually receive treatment. For Mental Health Awareness Month, King’s University and Social Work Helper are working together to help raise awareness on mental health barriers and challenges many individuals face when contemplating mental health treatment.

When increased concerns about a mental health condition arise, friends, family and/or Google are often the first to be consulted. Varying responses from getting counseling to hospitalization may be suggested as the potential solution, but what roadblocks may be encountered before an intervention can be decided? There are many things to consider on the journey to mental wellness, but there are also several pitfalls to look out for.

1. Stigma

The unfortunate truth is that most people are terrified of being discriminated against in their employment or unjustly targeted by the police because of their mental health status. According to current data, individuals with a mental health condition are more likely to encounter law enforcement than receive professional treatment. Too often, the public’s education on mental illness is learned from misrepresented portrayals of mentally ill individuals as violent criminals by the media.

2. Refusal

Adult patients have the right to refuse treatment. This may become a major barrier and challenge for parents with adult children who need treatment. Current laws require an individual to be a danger to themselves or third party in order to qualify for an involuntary committal. Typically, commitment of a mental ill individual is avoided unless a determination has been made declaring them to be dangerous. Unfortunately, loved ones of an individual struggling with mental illness who have refused treatment have very limited options available to them.

3. Financial

The rising cost of prescription drugs, high co-pays and deductibles in addition to limited and uncovered mental health services may be the deciding factor in whether someone seeks treatment. According to a 2011 study in the journal Health Affairs, the United States spent 113 billion dollars on mental health treatment which was only 5.6% of national physical health-care related spending. Most importantly, the majority of those dollars went to prescription drug costs as the primary treatment for the mental health condition. Even though the Affordable Care Act has pushed the uninsured rate to an all time low, approximately 27.3 million Americans still are without insurance. Also, in surveys measuring the effectiveness of the ACA, responses suggest high deductibles and out of pocket costs still remain the biggest barrier preventing individuals from seeking mental health treatment.

4. Intervention

Some people may give up on pursuing treatment because they don’t believe therapy is working for them. Could it be possible the right type of therapy was not introduced to improve their mental health needs? It could happen. There may be several therapists and/or several medications tried before finding the right combination to yield the best results. When it comes to mental health treatment, there is no one size fits all treatment, and any wellness plan must be tailored to fit the needs of the individual seeking treatment in order to help them achieve the best outcomes. Before choosing a counselor or therapist, there are many factors to consider before making a decision such as their cultural background, spiritual philosophy, and competencies in order to increase the odds of a better fit.

5. Access

Even if the four previous mentioned barriers could be prevented, individuals experiencing a mental health crisis may be wait listed before they can get access to a mental health provider. According to U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, 60% of Americans live in a mental health provider shortage area because the mental healthcare system does not have enough providers to meet current demand. There are approximately 1,000 patients for every 1 provider, and the US needs to add approximately 10,000 providers by 2025 in order to make pace with the growing demand for services.

Licensed counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists are desperately needed to begin closing the treatment area shortage gap. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “The APA Education Government Relations Office (GRO) continues to seek increased federal support for psychology education and training, particularly for psychologists who work with underserved populations” which includes a loan repayment option for early career psychologists. For more information on earning a psychology degree, visit King’s University Bachelor’s of Psychology Program.

Written by Deona Hooper, MSW

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Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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