Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report noting, that “depression is a serious condition” and rates of treatment remain low (see here http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db172.pdf). Being on the forefront as a clinical psychologist, this news is not surprising to me. However, it continues to strike frustration.
When it comes to mental health, many needlessly suffer. According to the CDC report, using data from 2009-2012, 7.6% of Americans over the age of 12 reported depression and rates were significantly higher for older adults ages 40 to 59 (9.8%). Furthermore, rates of severe depression among individuals from racial and ethnically diverse groups were higher (African American, 4.1%; Hispanic 3.7%) than Whites (2.6%). Even more alarming is the fact that treatments are available to address these difficulties, but only a small percentage of people seek professional help. The CDC report indicated that of those with severe depression, only 35% reported seeking treatment from a mental health professional.
What can be done to stop people across America from suffering from mental health issues?
First, there are decades of research on access to mental health services and a common theme is “people are reluctant to seek therapy or psychiatric care due to stigma”. In 2002, the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health identified stigma as a major barrier to individuals receiving the necessary treatment (http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//SMA03-3831/SMA03-3831.pdf). President Obama held a National Conference on Mental Health in 2013 to spark a national conversation to increase our understanding of and awareness of mental health treatment. Still, the fact remains that there is stigma about seeking psychological services. Secondly, another barrier to accessing care is limitations placed on individuals by insurance providers. The Affordable Care Act has provided one avenue to decrease stigma and increase care by integrating physical and mental health. Furthermore, the U.S. government has made strides through creating additional programs and providing funding to improve access to care. However, as highlighted by the CDC report there is a particular need to address the lack of care among those from rural areas and ethnically diverse groups.
I believe that the media can play an important role in increase mental health care. Currently, pharmaceutical companies put a lot of effort into adverting drugs that can help decrease symptoms. From the CDC report, we know many people don’t seek therapy for treatment. However, it is unclear how may people prefer to just “take a pill” to make the pain go away. I think we need to do more public education about psychiatric services in the media to decrease stigma about psychotherapy. Additionally, more efforts need to be put into reforming U.S. policies for third party payers (i.e., insurance companies). Far too often people are denied care due to restrictions unnecessarily placed on them by their insurance company. As a psychologist, who has worked with patients who needed psychiatric hospitalization, it was always heartbreaking to tell a family their child was being discharged due to insurance denial. Sadly many of these families were repeatedly admitted to the hospital due to not being able to stay in the hospital during their previous admission.
To help improve Americans’ overall health we can’t neglect the importance that our mental health plays on our physical health. We must address mental health stigma and unnecessary insurance denials in order to improve treatment access and to decrease the burden for those who suffer psychological problems.
Copyright Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. 2015
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Dr. Turner is a licensed psychologist with expertise in behavioral pediatrics, child mental health, disruptive behavior disorders, and minority mental health. He is also certified as a National Register Health Service Psychologist.