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Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Mental health care faces several challenges and problems today. But the main problems include pervasive stigma, limited access to mental health care, shortage of mental health professionals, affordability, and lack of early prevention strategies.

Navigation: Problems with Mental Health Care Today, The Problem of Mental Health Stigma, Limited Access to Mental Health Care, Shortage of Mental Health Professionals, Affordability of Mental Health Treatment, Lack of Early Intervention and Prevention, Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse Treatment: What is Dual Diagnosis?, Rehab Is Your Best Chance

 

All over the world, mental health disorders and substance use disorders are now the leading cause of disability. Mental disorders are responsible for a large percentage of the global burden of disease. [1]

Unfortunately, certain treatment gaps in mental health care are only making the problem a lot worse. Those who have serious mental illnesses do not receive mental health treatment. In fact, more than 70% of people who need mental health treatment worldwide do not have access to it. Ironically, this is happening at a time when evidence-based mental health interventions have already been proven to be effective. [1]

Evidence-based treatments have been shown to successfully treat various mental health disorders. But the problem lies in making these treatments accessible.

Mental Health America (MHA) emphasizes that mental health treatment should be treated with the same level of care and concern as physical health.

Addressing the gaps in mental health treatment includes treating everyone regardless of age. Protecting youth mental health is just as important as addressing mental health concerns in older individuals. But that’s not all. Here we will talk about the various problems with mental health care today, so we can work towards fixing these issues.

 

Problems with Mental Health Care Today

Mental health care faces several challenges and problems today. But the main problems include pervasive stigma, limited access to mental health care, shortage of mental health professionals, affordability, and lack of early prevention strategies.

It is essential to diminish the stigma of mental health while implementing prevention programs to decrease the incidence of mental disorders around the world. [1]

Before we talk about the main problems with mental health care today, let’s talk about other factors that contribute to the existing mental health treatment gap. For example, mental health treatment can be fragmented, thanks to the lack of coordination between primary care providers, social services, and mental health specialists. This fragmentation makes it difficult for patients to navigate the system.

Mental health services are also frequently underfunded, leading to a lack of resources for research, treatment, and education.

There also seems to be an overreliance on medication. In some cases, mental health care focuses too much on medication, neglecting other effective treatment modalities such as therapy and lifestyle changes. This is somewhat due to the fact that many people, including healthcare providers, have limited knowledge about mental health issues, leading to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

Mental health care sometimes neglects the importance of addressing physical health as well as the social aspects of mental disorders. A comprehensive and holistic treatment is important because mental health problems, just like substance abuse disorders, can impact every aspect of a person’s life.

Even the pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health problems, leading to increased demand for services and strained resources.

Addressing these problems requires a comprehensive approach involving policy changes, increased funding, destigmatization efforts, and improved education and training for healthcare professionals. Society as a whole needs to recognize the importance of mental health and work to create a more supportive and accessible system.

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The Problem of Mental Health Stigma

Although it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, this is actually one of the biggest hurdles for people who are in need of mental health treatment. Even today, stigma around mental health issues remains a significant barrier to seeking and receiving care.

This is because many people feel ashamed or fear discrimination when discussing their mental health problems. The problem of mental health stigma affects millions of people around the world.

When we say stigma, it refers to the phenomenon of being discredited or somehow marked for being a certain label or stereotype, which is inaccurate or dehumanizing. Stigma is when someone is reduced to a collection of symptoms rather than being treated like a person with an illness. For example, someone with mental health problems may be labeled as ‘psychotic’. [2]

When a person faces stigma, they are viewed or treated differently because of their situation—in this case, because of their mental illness—and therefore made to feel worthless and ashamed. The discrimination people face because of stigma can actually make recovery more difficult. [2]

Stigmatizing attitudes can discourage individuals from seeking treatment for their mental health problems. They may delay or avoid treatment due to fear of ridicule. This can worsen the course of their conditions and lead to poor treatment outcomes.

Stigma can manifest in various ways and can be deeply damaging to people and entire communities. Sometimes people with severe mental illness are inappropriately incarcerated or involuntarily hospitalized due to a lack of community-based care options. In other cases, stigma leads to social isolation. People fear judgment and discrimination so they hide their struggles and avoid seeking help. This isolation only exacerbates their mental health issues.

Stigma can even happen internally. People with mental health conditions may internalize the negative stereotypes and beliefs surrounding their condition, leading to reduced self-esteem and self-worth.

When someone is called ‘dangerous’, ‘crazy’ or ‘incompetent’ because of their condition, it is an example of stigma. The same can be said for when a person is mocked or called weak for seeking treatment. [2]

These misconceptions about mental health conditions are prevalent in society. This can lead to a lack of empathy and understanding, with some people believing that mental illnesses are a sign of personal weakness or a lack of character.

Even the media can reinforce stigma by showcasing inaccurate portrayals of people with a mental illness or using hostile language when referring to people with mental health problems. [2]

Many people do not disclose their mental health conditions due to fear of stigma. As a result, the prevalence of mental health issues might be underestimated, and people might not receive the support and resources they need.

To destigmatize mental health, it is important to talk openly about these conditions and educate people about mental health treatment.

Efforts to combat mental health stigma include public awareness campaigns, education about mental health, and advocacy for policy changes that protect the rights of those with mental health conditions.

Reducing stigma is essential for fostering a more supportive and understanding society that encourages people to seek help when needed and promotes overall mental well-being. It is a collective responsibility to challenge stereotypes, promote empathy, and create an environment where those with mental health conditions can live free from discrimination and judgment.

Limited Access to Mental Health Care

Sometimes even when people do want mental health treatment, treatment is simply inaccessible. Rural areas, for example, often have fewer mental health professionals and facilities. Not to mention many people lack insurance coverage for mental health services. This can result in long wait times for treatment.

But this issue can also manifest in other ways, such as high costs, inadequate insurance coverage, high out-of-pocket costs, and fragmented care. The scarcity makes it frustrating to find care when you need it.

In the US, even though more than one-fifth of all adults are struggling with some sort of mental illness, limited access to mental health care remains one of the biggest barriers. However, the problem only seems to be getting worse. From 2008 to 2019, the number of US adults over the age of 18 with a mental illness increased from over 39 million to over 51 million. This is almost a 30% increase. [3]

Access to mental health care is often unequal, with rural areas and underserved communities having less access to mental health services. People living in urban areas might have more choices and resources.

Due to the high demand for mental health services and limited providers, patients often face extended wait times to see a mental health professional. This delay can make their symptoms worse over time. It can even discourage them from seeking help.

The good news is that progress has been made to reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues, but the problem of providing access to mental health care still persists. [3]

Efforts are being made to address these challenges. Government agencies, non-profit organizations, and healthcare providers are working on initiatives to expand access to mental health care. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that mental health services are readily available to all who need them.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, consider reaching out to local or national mental health organizations or hotlines for assistance and information on available resources.

Shortage of Mental Health Professionals

In many places, there is a shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals, making it difficult for people to find appropriate care.

In 2021, the US had an estimated 129.6 million people who were living in one of the 5,930 federally designated areas that were considered mental health care Health Professional Shortage Areas. In fact, only 28% of the US population lives in an area where there are enough mental health care providers to provide the population’s needs. Most states have less than 40% of the mental health care professionals needed. [3]

This is a challenge that is further highlighted by the fact that the demand for mental health services has been steadily increasing over time. Growing awareness of mental health issues, reduced stigma, and the psychological toll of various life stressors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have opened people’s eyes to the importance of mental health treatment.

This shortage of mental health professionals slows down access to mental health care, especially in rural areas.

Becoming a mental health professional often requires years of education and training, including obtaining advanced degrees, clinical supervision, and licensure. These requirements can deter potential professionals from entering the field.

Another concern is that mental health professionals, including therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists, often face high levels of burnout and stress due to the emotional and demanding nature of their work. This can lead to professionals leaving the field prematurely.

There’s also limited funding and resources for mental health services, both in the public and private sectors, can hinder the ability to hire and retain qualified professionals.

On the bright side, the number of aspiring psychiatrists has grown over the past five years. This can hopefully aid in fulfilling the increased demand for mental health services. [3]

Expanding educational programs and providing financial incentives, such as scholarships and loan forgiveness, can help attract and retain more mental health professionals.

Affordability of Mental Health Treatment

Even when mental health care is available, the cost can be prohibitive. Those who want to pursue treatment sometimes cannot afford it due to high out-of-pocket expenses. This usually discourages people from seeking treatment.

Many people and families consider cost as one of the most significant barriers to mental health treatment.

In recent years, people have had to navigate various obstacles such as low income, insurance denials, and expensive treatment. The pandemic has only highlighted the different barriers to mental health care. Much-needed services are inaccessible due to cost-related factors. [4]

Health care providers are struggling to keep up with the population’s mental health needs.

Many people rely on health insurance to cover at least a portion of their mental health treatment. Thanks to advancements toward mental health parity, mental health treatment can now be covered by health insurance plans as part of essential health benefits.

Mental health parity laws require insurers to provide mental health coverage that is on par with physical health coverage. These laws aim to prevent discrimination in insurance coverage for mental health services.

Despite this progress, mental health treatment and substance abuse services remain inaccessible for millions of people who need them.

Policymakers have come up with frameworks that are meant to improve access to mental health services. And while these guidelines are not flawless, they can offer an important baseline that other policymakers can continue to build on. [4]

Some mental health providers, such as therapists and community mental health clinics, also seek to increase accessibility by offering sliding scale fees based on their patients’ income. This can make services more affordable for those with limited financial resources.

Government-funded programs can also provide access to affordable mental health care. For example, Medicaid serves low-income individuals and families.

Many employers offer EAPs or Employee Assistance Programs, which provide access to short-term counseling and mental health services for employees and their families. These services are typically confidential and free to employees.

Finally, there are also nonprofit and community organizations that offer free or low-cost mental health services. These organizations often rely on grants and donations to provide care to those in need.

So while accessibility and cost remain as obstacles toward mental health treatment, there are at least a few options available when it comes to funding these services. It’s still important to consider the quality of care to ensure that you receive the appropriate level of support and treatment for your needs.

Lack of Early Intervention and Prevention

Because of the challenges listed above, it becomes more difficult to provide early intervention and prevention efforts. A lot of people don’t even seek help until their condition is severe, and this only makes recovery even more challenging.

Prevention and early intervention are both recognized as key elements in terms of minimizing the impact of serious mental illnesses. However, mental health treatment is often associated with handling major emergencies and mental health crisis events. [5]

Stigma, limited resources, long waiting lists, and a lack of education on the effects of mental health disorders can hinder a person’s treatment journey. Some people with mental illnesses delay mental health treatment until their condition has significantly deteriorated.

Vulnerable populations, such as minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and those with disabilities, often face even greater challenges in accessing early intervention and prevention services. Other factors like poverty, housing instability, and access to education can also significantly influence mental health. A lack of resources dedicated to addressing these social factors can contribute to the development of mental health issues in various communities.

In some cases, even if early intervention was the goal, it’s simply not possible due to the fact that there are very few treatment professionals to provide their services.

Long waiting lists for mental health services mean that patients may wait months or even years to access treatment. This delay can allow their conditions to worsen.

Prevention and early intervention are dependent on education and awareness. If there is inadequate mental health education in schools and communities, people may not recognize the signs of mental health issues in themselves or their loved ones.

Keep in mind that mental health is a key component of a person’s ability to function, both in their personal life and their social life. If possible, early intervention and prevention strategies need to be pursued in order to protect the youth from developing serious mental health problems. [5]

Remember that early intervention can also benefit older people. If severe mental health disorders can be prevented, it is much easier to address minor symptoms.

Addressing these issues requires a multi-pronged approach, including reducing stigma, improving access, increasing funding, integrating mental health care with primary care, and implementing policies that promote prevention and early intervention.

Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse Treatment: What is Dual Diagnosis?

Similar to mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment also has certain problems that keep people from accessing the care that they need. Interestingly, mental illnesses and substance use disorders often co-occur.

A dual diagnosis is when a person has both a mental health disorder and a co-occurring drug or alcohol problem. Addiction and mental illness often occur together because of their complex relationship. In fact, about half of those who have a substance use disorder will also have a mental disorder at some point in their lives and vice versa. [6]

Some people take drugs or abuse alcohol to cope with the symptoms of their mental illness like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder. Others develop mental illnesses because of their recreational use or misuse of addictive substances.

While it’s not always true that these conditions cause one another, they can certainly worsen one another.

It does not necessarily mean that one condition caused the other when these problems co-occur. According to researchers, this may simply be due to the fact that both conditions share similar risk factors such as genetics, trauma, and stress. [6]

When a person has both of these conditions, they need to be addressed simultaneously or else it may be difficult to achieve long-term sobriety. There are plenty of rehab centers out there that specialize in dual diagnosis treatment.

Addressing the problems of mental health treatment starts with the individual. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health disorders, addiction, or both, look for a treatment center near you and learn about the recovery process. The journey to sobriety begins today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

 

author avatar
Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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