Young Adults With Mental Illness Least Likely To Receive Treatment

By John Lavitt 07/21/16

While adults with mental illness aged 50 and older are the most likely to get the treatment they need. 

Young Adults With Mental Illness Are The Least Likely To Receive Treatment

According to data from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as reported on by SAMHSA, only a third of young adults suffering from mental illness over the course of the year received any treatment whatsoever.

Among adults with any mental illness, young adults aged 18 to 25 are less likely to receive mental health services than any other age group. In comparison, 44.2% of adults in need aged 26 to 49 received some type of mental health services treatment. Adults with mental illness 50 and older are the most likely to access the help they require, with close to half being treated (49.9%). Given the number of senior citizens that live in assisted-living environments, such a discrepancy is not all that surprising.

Mental health service use among young adults aged 18 to 25 with any mental illness: 2014 (Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health) 

In 2014, about 2.4 million young adults in need were able to access mental health services such as inpatient services, outpatient services, or prescription medication over the course of the year. Such a statistic means that close to 5 million young adults with mental health issues were left in the dark. This shocking statistic clearly influenced the commonality of dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders. Given the untreated suffering experienced by these young people, is it surprising that they would choose drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication?

In terms of the young adults actually receiving help, the breakdown of services accessed is as follows: about 1 in 4 received prescription medication (25.5%) while 1 in 5 received outpatient services (21.3%). When it came to inpatient mental health treatment services, it proved to be by far the least likely treatment modality of all. Only 3.7% of young adults suffering from mental illness were able to access inpatient services. 

Given the nature of mental illness, obviously many more would have required such intensive treatment. According to the CDC, the percentage of adults in the entire United States with serious psychological distress in the past 30 days was 3.1%. In light of such a statistic, clearly a lot more than 3.7% of the young people suffering from mental illness over the course of a year would require intensive inpatient services. 

Given the overall statistics, SAMHSA believes that young adults could benefit from developmentally appropriate services to facilitate the transition to adulthood. To help young adults, SAMHSA sponsors several programs that provide vital information on the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. These programs also offer referral and treatment services to young people needing help with mental illness.

Beyond mental health professionals, there is the potential that mentors, life coaches, and teachers could fill the gap. At the very least, such trained professionals that have frequent interactions with young adults could help to identify those in need. For additional information on accessing treatment for mental illness and beyond, SAMHSA recommends using their online resource at

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.