Why Aren't Americans Getting Adequate Mental Health Care?

By Keri Blakinger 09/03/15

Suicide Prevention Month shines a spotlight on the need for greater access to mental health treatment.

Infographic: Saving Lives

September is Suicide Prevention Month, so it’s a good time to focus on mental health care. However, according to a new study presented this week by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NAASP), adequate mental healthcare may be inaccessible and unaffordable for most people.

One of the survey’s key findings was that nearly half of Americans believe they have or have had a mental health condition, but less than 40%  actually received treatment. By contrast, however, just under 11% of drug users in need of treatment actually receive help. One of the barriers to treatment may be cost, as 43% of respondents said that they believe mental healthcare is something most people can’t afford. Also, 31% said they felt it was not accessible and 30% said they believed people did not know where to find treatment.

The survey, presented by ADAA President Mark Pollack, AFSP Chief Medical Officer Christine Moutier, and NAASP Director Doryn Chervin, also found that while two-thirds of adults would tell someone if they were having suicidal thoughts, significantly fewer men than women would reach out for help.

Nearly all of the individuals surveyed felt that suicide was sometimes or often preventable, but more than 40% acknowledged that something might prevent them from intervening to stop a suicide attempt. More than half of adults said they had been affected by suicide in some manner.

Although most respondents said that they knew that depression and post-traumatic stress disorder were correlated with a higher risk of suicide, 53% said they did not know that held true for individuals with anxiety or panic disorders.

The survey, which was conducted online by Harris Poll in August and included more than 2,000 adult subjects, found interesting disparities in who receives treatment. For one, people under the age of 55 were more likely to have received treatment than those 55 and older.

Also, adults in the 18 to 34 range tended to see seeking mental health treatment as a sign of strength. They were also more likely to believe that suicide is preventable. Women, the survey found, were more likely to have received mental health treatment than men and, while women were more likely to report anxiety and depression, men were more likely to report substance-related conditions.

Although the results offered troubling insights into what proportion of those in need actually seek and receive mental health treatment, Moutier said, “Progress is being made in how Americans view mental health, and the important role it plays in our everyday lives. People see the connection between mental health and overall well-being, our ability to function at work and at home, and how we view the world around us. I am encouraged by the survey findings—respondents want to help a loved one by connecting them to the right mental health treatment and support."

“The findings provide key insights into how Americans view mental health conditions, life circumstances, barriers for seeking help, and their understanding of the risk factors for suicide,” said Chervin. “Knowing that the vast majority believe that suicide is preventable helps us to take immediate action. We must continue to support, treat and care for those struggling with mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts. It’s all about saving lives.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.