What Are Barriers to Mental Health Care?
Around 20% of all Americans will experience mental illness in their lifetime, and around 60 million people are affected by mental health disorders in any one year. These statistics are rather sobering, and the figures in Southern California are broadly in line with the national averages.
A survey dating back to 2010 showed that around 495,000 adults in only the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana area had experienced at least one major depressive episode over the course of a year, and those numbers have only increased over the past decade. Treatments like medication, care management and psychotherapy have been proven to improve the function and health status of those suffering from mental illnesses, however less than half receive any form of mental health care. This is something that must be addressed and rectified.
Since most people don’t wait to seek out medical care when they’re suffering from physical illnesses, why are there so many problems when it comes to getting mental health care?
There are a number of barriers that present themselves unique to mental health care. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most common.
Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to getting help for mental health problems is the stigma that still lingers around depression, anxiety and other similar issues. Although mental illness affects people of every socioeconomic status, culture and age, it remains shrouded in stigma while physical health problems are not.
“All my life, I grew up around people who made fun of mental illness sufferers. They were called names like Looney or Weirdo. When I started developing problems I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to make fun of me.” Says Leo, a teenager who has recently been diagnosed with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder).
People with mental health problems are frequently viewed as different, dangerous, unpredictable, crazy or weak. These negative stereotypes persist over time and prevent many sufferers from getting the mental health care they require. Unfortunately, many people experiencing mental health problems start to believe the false yet deep-rooted stereotypes that are linked with their conditions and this reduces their self-esteem. In turn, the chances of them seeking out treatment reduce and their health gets worse.
A Lack Of Understanding
Another barrier to accessing mental health care is a lack of understanding of mental health problems. Some people fail to understand that they’re actually suffering from a condition in the first place. They may dismiss depression as simply feeling down, or anxiety may be written off as simply feeling over-worried. A large number of people don’t believe they’ve got a problem that needs treatment. They believe they can handle the issues themselves or that their problems will improve on their own. It is this lack of understanding of the symptoms of mental illnesses that can stand in the way of accessing mental health care.
“It took me years to recognize I was actually suffering from a treatable problem,” says Winston, a retired bus driver with obsessive compulsive disorder. “I just thought it was the way I was and that was it. It was only when I couldn’t leave the house because I was so obsessed with checking that I began to realize just how much impact it was having on my life. Once I got my diagnosis I looked back and realized that I had been experiencing symptoms since I was in my 30s but I didn’t know it. That’s because I didn’t know what I was looking out for. No wonder it took me until I was in my late fifties before I finally got help.”
Problems In Accessing Mental Health Care Services
The 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act made sure that all health plans must provide equal coverage for mental illnesses as for surgical and medical benefits. Yet, while this has helped to expand coverage for those with mental health problems, it can still be problematic to access mental health care. Depending on where in the country you are located, it may be hard to find providers that accept new patients and that are within commutable distance.
“I knew that I needed help to get over my postnatal depression.” Priya, a mother of two, reports. “But because I live in a very remote area there aren’t any specialists nearby who can help. In the end I had to get help online because there were no clinics or treatment facilities within an hour’s drive.”
More than 60% of sufferers who are seeking treatment must wait for a minimum of 3 months before being given an appointment, and even when they do manage to get treatment, transportation can be a major barrier since mental health providers may be located many miles from their home. Fortunately for those with mental health issues in Southern California, there are excellent treatment facilities available that provide an outstanding level of care, but in more rural regions and remote areas, accessing suitable provision can be almost impossible, especially for those with no car.
Need For Self-Reliance
One consistent factor that comes up time and again when it comes to accessing mental health care is the patient’s own need for self-reliance. Many sufferers prefer to only rely on themselves instead of seeking help from elsewhere for the issues they face. Seeking help from others is frequently viewed as being weak and as an inability to deal with life’s normal problems.
“It took me three years to finally get the courage to ask for help with my anxiety,” Jumilla, a patient from Los Angeles admits. “I was so afraid that my family would think I couldn’t cope that I didn’t dare tell them about the way I was feeling. As my problem got worse, I became even more scared of seeking help in case other people thought I wasn’t a fit parent because I was struggling to manage daily tasks.”
Trust And Confidentiality
Some patients are afraid to seek mental health care because they don’t trust potential sources of help. Some people are worried that confidentiality breaches could lead to them being exposed, while others distrust the authenticity or credibility of providers. Some even fear that they’ll be judged negatively by their provider.
“My family have always had a negative view of mental health providers.” Anton, who suffers from depression, reported. “My Dad would say that doctors who specialized in this area were quacks and couldn’t be trusted. So, when I started suffering from depression, I was reluctant to go and get help because I’d grown up believing that nobody could help me and that any treatment I would be offered wouldn’t work.”
One further problem that faces those who are suffering from mental illnesses is the feeling of hopelessness that paralyzes them and prevents them seeking out support. The more distressed a patient is, the less chance they have of being able to actively seek care. When someone is mentally ill, they often begin to feel as if there is no way to feel better, so there is no longer any point in trying to get treatment since nothing will be able to help.
“By the time I realized I was suffering from a mental health problem I was so depressed that I couldn’t see any way out.” Maria, an OCD sufferer, says. “My checking behaviors had become so engrained and established in my life that I didn’t feel as if there was any way out. How would I ever be able to overcome something that had become such a major part of my daily routine? All hope had completely gone of ever being able to live a normal life – I genuinely believed that I was beyond help.”
Doctors Cannot Or Will Not Offer The Desired Treatment
Even when patients seek out mental health care, they may discover that the experience they receive is not what they wanted or needed. Sometimes, patients present hoping for a specific treatment and are disappointed that it isn’t offered to them, even when that treatment is available. Doctors may decide that a patient won’t benefit from a particular treatment or that it could actually harm rather than help them, but in other cases, the doctor may simply be unaware that the treatment is available and could prove beneficial. Patients who are suffering from a mental illness have often had a struggle before accessing mental health care in the first place, so taking a further step to get a second opinion can just be too much to cope with.
Sometimes, the best treatment for a patient may not even be available in their local area or the waiting time to get that treatment may be prohibitively long. This is upsetting and frustrating and, for those who are suffering from mental health issues, it can often simply be too challenging to find alternative options.
The Effective Facilitators For Seeking Mental Health Care
Although there are clearly many barriers that stand in the way of seeking effective mental health care for those who are suffering, there are some effective facilitators. If patients have had a previous positive experience in seeking out mental health treatment, they are more likely to go and get help the next time they experience a similar issue.
Sufferers who are socially supported and who receive encouragement to get help from other people in their lives are also more likely to seek out the mental health care they need. Supportive parents and family members, or friends who’ve had a positive experience in getting treatment themselves are good influences on sufferers and are most likely to be able to persuade those with anxiety, depression or other disorders to get the help they need.
One key factor in getting help for mental illness is improved understanding about mental health and greater emotional confidence. When people have the confidence and ability to identify their emotions and feelings and articulate them effectively, and when they are able to recognize and understand all of the symptoms associated with mental illnesses, they become much more able to go out and seek professional care.
Top Tips For Getting Help For Mental Health Disorders
If you are struggling with a mental health disorder and are struggling to get the mental health care you need, these top tips may point you in the right direction.
- Keep trying to get help, even if you’ve had a bad experience.
- Develop positive coping techniques and look after yourself, especially if you’re on a waiting list for the treatment you need.
- Talk to other people who are able to understand your problems. Getting encouragement and support from others who’ve been in similar situations may be valuable, whether they are friends or family members or others in a support group.
- Explore possible alternative treatments for your condition if the treatment you believe you need is not offered to you or unavailable in your area.
- Find someone who can advocate for you. If you suffer from a mental health problem you may find it difficult to articulate effectively your emotions and feelings. Having someone to help you with expressing your wishes and views and to assist you in accessing the support and help you need can be extremely beneficial.
Accessing mental health care can feel like a massive task for sufferers, and it can be all-too-easy to give up, become disheartened, or even be too afraid to get support in the first place. However, with the right approach, attitude, understanding and help from others, it’s possible to not only access effective treatment but to enter long-term recovery and enjoy a better quality of life.
For mental illness sufferers in Southern California, the good news is that it’s possible to access the mental health care that you need thanks to the excellent treatment facilities in the area. Although it can be difficult to take the step of accessing treatment, once you have taken the plunge you will be able to benefit from expert support and cutting-edge help that can get you back on track.