When it comes to our mental health, every person has different resources for managing it and coping. Most people are not aware that we were mostly equipped with these in early childhood. Adverse Childhood Experiences may challenge a person’s mental health every day, from waking up to falling asleep. So many people in our society struggle with mental health issues, yet it may feel impossible to ask for help and actually get it.
Does anyone care?
From America’s poor and lacking mental health systems to the unaffordable expenses of treatment and lack of treatment for minorities or people in rural areas, there are shocking barriers to mental health care access. No doubt these are harming our nation’s mental health. During this Mental Health Awareness Month, mental health care access is a critical issue we’d like to discuss here.
The current mental health system
America’s current mental health system has struggled for years. America, in general, has allowed only a tiny budget of funds to the mental health systems, which has created a huge problem in accessing proper treatment.
The lack of funding and making mental health care accessible has terrible consequences for our society. Mental health is an ongoing problem for many Americans. Statistically, 1 in 5 Americans suffers from a mental illness. According to the ACE study, mental health issues in children often look like behavioral problems, so they do not get adequately treated and often become adults with mental illnesses (Stop Abuse Campaign 2021).
Mental health care access: Big societal issue
People often look at the mentally ill as dangerous and damaging when, in fact, only 3 to 5 percent of crimes actually occur from mental illness. People who are mentally ill are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crimes.
Unfortunately, 25 to 45 percent of people with mental illness have been incarcerated, and there is a link between mental illness and poverty (Larson 2018). A majority of people who are homeless in America have a mental illness. Many of our fellow citizens on the street are underpaid veterans who have untreated PTSD, which makes finding a stable job nearly impossible due to the mental health issues they experience.
Why you should care about improving mental health care access
We, as a society, seem to have an issue understanding the shocking barriers to mental health because of an uninformed perception that treating mental health is unnecessary or unimportant.
It’s not that bad, right? Wrong.
People are often looked down upon for getting treatment for their mental health because it is deemed needless unless you are ‘crazy’ or you harm others. Also, there is a fear that getting diagnosed would affect individuals’ employment. The lack of understanding of these barriers to mental health care access has terrible consequences in increased suicides and school shootings (Nursing@USC 2018). We are all responsible for removing the negative stigma around getting mental health treatment because it harms others in ways we wouldn’t even dream possible.
Financial barriers to mental health access
Financial barriers and the expensive cost of receiving mental health care are chief among the reasons why many of us do not adequately care for our mental health.
More than 50 percent of the adults who feel like they need mental health treatment do not receive it because they cannot afford the services and do not have health insurance coverage that will cover it. (Nursing@USC 2018).
Unfortunately, due to this issue, the lower-income population, which is more likely to have mental health issues, is becoming more suicidal. Fixing financial barriers to mental health care access would provide psychological treatment for lower incomes, minorities, disabled individuals, and the younger population, which would help create a significantly healthier society.
Barriers to mental health care and treatment for minorities
While mental health currently has a negative outlook in our society overall, it is a struggle of its own for minorities. Poor mental health is often more prevalent, discriminated against, and harder to treat due to affordability in minority populations.
Several minority groups develop mental health issues such as affective, psychotic, substance use disorders, and depression at higher rates than whites from discrimination. Their exclusion negatively affects their mental health and creates a lack of worth when they are given harsh judgment or excluded (Psychiatry 2021, 3).
Many of the minority population with mental illness cannot afford treatment for their mental health. More than 20 percent of minorities with mental health issues feel that even if they can afford treatment, they should not receive it because of stereotyping and discrimination; getting diagnosed with a mental health disorder would affect their relationships, and job opportunities (Nursing@USC 2018). This issue is so harmful to minorities because minorities are much of the population that does struggle with mental health from environmental factors, such as lack of education and living in poverty (Psychiatry 2021, Page: 3).
What needs to happen to wake us all up to this horrible reality?
Lack of mental health services in the US
The social stigma involved around mental health is one of the primary reasons why we lack mental health services in the US.
Currently, mental health is a taboo in the US, which affects people using mental health services—and the services being provided. The stigma around mental health helps create a lack of federal spending being inputted into mental health services, which contributes to the shortage of psychiatrists in America (Adaptive Medical Partners 2022).
We’re also facing an issue of the lack of social workers who understand the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). This is a huge problem because childhood experiences are often a cause of a person’s mental illness (Maria 2020, Page: 2).
Rural mental health: The forgotten and isolated
There are more mental health barriers in rural areas than in urbanized regions. Even though the number of adults in rural areas with mental health issues is higher than in other areas, fewer than half of those in need of mental health care try to find services.
Most healthcare generalists are not adequately trained for mental health practices in rural areas, so when a person seeks out the treatment, they are not provided with adequate treatment (Coombs 2021, Page: 6).
Lower-income children who live in rural areas are more likely to experience trauma that impacts their adulthood. More than 31 percent of this group of children have experienced a life-threatening injury, sexual or physical abuse, or emotional trauma. Sadly, when these children grow up, they will most likely have psychiatric problems that remain with them (Stop Abuse Campaign 2018).
How to get mental health help without insurance
Getting help for your mental health is extremely important; even if it is a little more difficult without insurance, it is not impossible.
29 million Americans live without health insurance, and unfortunately, receiving help can cost up to 1,000 dollars every day.
Luckily, there are other ways to receive mental health care without insurance. If your situation is dire and you are thinking of hurting yourself or others, you should immediately call the – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Assistance (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This resource is entirely free (Helpadvisor 2021).
If your needs are less urgent, you may qualify for Medicaid to get mental health help. Medicaid can help you receive mental health care at a low cost if your income is below certain state limits.
- Zeb Larson. America’s Long-Suffering Mental Health System. https://origins.osu.edu/article/americas-long-suffering-mental-health-system?language_content_entity=en. (April, 2018)
- Stop Abuse Campaign. Research Roundup September 2021. Adverse Childhood Experience Research Roundup. https://stopabusecampaign.org/category/adverse-childhood-experience-research-roundup/. (Sep 22, 2021)
- Nursing@USC. Understanding Barriers to Minority Mental Health Care. https://nursing.usc.edu/blog/discrimination-bad-health-minority-mental-healthcare/. (May 10, 2018)
- Eur Psychiatry. Racism and mental health and the role of mental health professionals. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8278246/. (Jun 17, 2021) Pages:3
- Roman Pabayo. Financial Barriers to Mental Healthcare Services and Depressive Symptoms among Residents of Washington Heights, New York City. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34894792/. (Dec 31, 2021)
- Nicholas C. Coombs. Barriers to healthcare access among U.S. adults with mental health challenges: A population-based study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8214217/. (Jun 17, 2021) Page:6
- Negrete, Maria. “Adverse Childhood Experiences of Social Work Students and Implications for Field Specialization and Practice” (2020). Electronic Theses, Projects, and Dissertations. 1033. https://scholarworks.lib.csusb.edu/etd/1033
- Helpadvisor. How to Get Mental Health Help Without Insurance. https://www.helpadvisor.com/conditions/mental-health-help-without-insurance. (January 02, 2021) Page:2, 21
- Stop Abuse Campaign. Should Childhood Trauma Be Treated As A Public Health Crisis? https://stopabusecampaign.org/2018/11/12/should-childhood-trauma-be-treated-as-a-public-health-crisis/. (Nov 12, 2018)
- Adaptive Medical Partners. Why is there a Pharmacist Shortage – What To Do About It? https://adaptivemedicalpartners.com (2022)
Discover your ACE score and unlock a new understanding of your life. Take the test and gain insights into how your early experiences shape your well-being. Don't let your past define you – empower yourself with knowledge.
Claire E. Phillips
Claire is a junior finishing her associate’s degree in International Business at Oklahoma State University and an author passionate about stopping abuse and making a change.