Inside the Accessibility of Mental HealthCare in the US

Jenni Boonie is a writer, mostly in the tech space, but she was moved to write about healthcare when she (like many of us) ran up against obstacles in the accessibility of mental healthcare. It’s frustrating, yes, but Jenni offers a glimmer of hope. Here’s Jenni….

Despite the fact that society is growing more and more aware of the various mental health issues, neither state nor private mental institutions have seemingly been able to keep up. As highlighted in our previous article ‘How Can We Improve America’s Mental Health Treatment?’, around 43.6 million American adults suffer from a mental health condition. An article by US News further explained that 56.4% of these adults did not receive any treatment for their mental health. This is a big concern within the healthcare industry.

The importance of mental health

Multiple studies have proven how mental health should be given the same significance as physical health. For instance, brain health is as important to mental capacity as it is to emotional wellbeing. Thoughts and feelings are inherently linked, with each one affecting the other. Parsley Health claims that leaving negative thoughts and feelings unaddressed could lead to physical manifestations like brain fog, which prevents you from accomplishing your usual daily tasks and worsens your health altogether.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to access information like this from trained professionals. Unite for Sight explains that the most common barriers to mental health care are

  • Limited availability of medical professionals and
  • Lack of affordability

This makes it all the more crucial for insurance programs to offer and cover sufficient mental health treatments.

Accessibility to Mental Healthcare

The US mental health crisis can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • severe shortage and maldistribution of mental health clinicians
  • social stigma
  • racism
  • lack of holistic and extensive knowledge on the topic

These factors create an inaccessibility to mental healthcare. Although data from Statista showed that 91.5% of the population had some kind of insurance, policies don’t usually cover mental health. This is in spite of the fact that it has been twelve years since Congress passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which promised to make mental health and substance abuse treatment just as easy to get as any other physical condition.

twenty six percentNo publication or study has yet accounted for the number of mental health care providers that are provided by insurers. However, the most recent study published by the Psychiatric Services Journal mentioned that out of the 360 psychiatrists listed in a major insurer’s database in Boston, Houston, and Chicago, only 26% of them could be contacted and booked for appointments. The remaining 74% were either doctors who weren’t taking new patients, doctors who weren’t related to the insurance company, or random numbers.

Slow Signs of Improvement

Fortunately, access to mental health care is slowly improving. For instance, in the case of Virginia, the prevalence of children with private insurance that did not cover mental or emotional problems is only at 7.8%, as per the statistical data cited by Mental Health America. Certain initiatives spearheaded by the government are also bringing mental health care closer to those who need it. An example of which is the bill signed by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2017 which requires all Community Services Boards to provide mental health services to walk-in patients. Members of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board pointed out in an article on ABC 13 News that each of these facilities provides services to around 20 to 50 walk-in patients seeking mental health care every day. One of the leading insurers in the US, BlueCross and BlueShield (BCBS) have also turned to the internet to provide a comprehensive list of all the therapists under them. In Virginia alone, BCBS has provided the contact information of 1740 counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists and experts who can provide mental health care.

Looking Forward

With the collective efforts of various entities such as non-governmental organizations, communities, universities, hospitals and clinics, some of the issues surrounding the mental health crisis can be resolved. However, what the country needs right now is for the government to take bigger steps in ensuring that the existing laws that promise to make mental health care more accessible are being strictly implemented. This way, the country can effectively stop the ballooning number of both American adults and kids suffering from mental health issues.

Exclusively written for by jenni boonie.

From the Editor:

The more people we talk to, the more we learn about the shortages of mental health services. At the time of this publication the Earth is undergoing the Covid 19 pandemic. People are scared, isolated, traumatized and anxious. Will our American healthcare system fail these people in their hour of need? Are insurers going to address the accessibility to mental healthcare and clean up their rosters of providers so patients can place a call and actually connect? I’m sure we all hope so. 

We have several articles talking about mental health:

Mental Health and the Quest for Quality Care by Shirley Davis

Mental Health: How Can We Improve America’s Treatments

The Mentally Ill May Be More Susceptible to Abusive Relationships by Hannah Page

You’ll receive updates about new resources, patient stories and insights, advocacy work, and alerts about patient-support events.