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  • Writer's pictureForesight Mental Health

Why Americans Don’t Access Mental Health Care

Updated: Apr 3

The numbers are shocking. The majority of people dealing with a mental health condition never receive treatment. For the past 20 years, over 50 percent of those with a severe condition have consistently gone untreated. Sadly, these numbers continue to rise. A new study from Kaiser Permanente shows that only 36 percent of those diagnosed sought any kind of treatment. For conditions like major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder the rates are even higher, for instance, 78 percent of substance dependent Americans continue without treatment.

So how can this problem persist? Why aren't people getting the help they need? Or do they simply lack access to proper treatment in the first place?

Stigma: Fear and Shame

One of the most common reasons for not accessing mental health care is shame. Those who speculate they may be suffering from common conditions avoid seeking out proper treatment because of the stigma a mental illness becomes associated with. Certain conditions can be concealed, meaning one might look good on the surface, but inside the condition is worsening. No one wants to be labeled mentally ill or crazy, let alone witness how these labels may affect life goals or career trajectories. But seeking help is the first step.


Many may recognize a possible mental health concern; however, they lack a full understanding of its significance. Someone with signs of an issue might say, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I don’t need help”. Furthermore, known as anosognosia, if someone feels as though they are not sick, they will not seek treatment, even if they have a serious condition. This is common, seen in more than 50 percent of people with schizophrenia and other severe conditions.


Even in the event that someone wishes to seek out mental health treatment, they often face roadblocks. Sometimes it’s as simple as patients don’t know how or where to turn for professional care. It can be geographic, depending on the locality in which you seek help. According to the American Medical Association, roughly 60 percent of all U.S. counties lack a single psychiatrist. In addition, clinics that are available can experience high volumes of patients, making for inconsistent scheduling and inadequate treatment that can result in patients falling off of treatment plans.

Cost of Care

A common barrier to accessing care is financial restraints. Those facing a mental health condition may experience financial hardship or may not have health insurance. Research shows that less than half of those facing depression lasting 12 months can maintain their employment status. These issues compound, perpetuating the cycle of untreated mental health conditions. Even with insurance, JAMA Psychiatry found that only 55 percent of psychiatrists in the U.S. accepted private insurance, compared with 89 percent of doctors in other medical fields.

It’s important to remember that more people likely have a condition than are ever diagnosed with it. Many feel they are inadequate or a failure if they admit that something is wrong with their mental health. They may think, thanks in part to social stigma, that they should be able to handle things on their own.


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