Report: More people are seeking out mental health care—if they can afford it 

Cost is the key barrier to mental health care access, according to a new report. (Getty/lorenzoantonucci)

The stigmas around mental health are eroding, which is pushing more people to seek care—but cost and access remain significant barriers, according to a new survey. 

The National Council for Behavioral Health and Cohen Veterans Network surveyed 5,000 people and found that nearly six in 10 had sought mental health care for either themselves or a loved one. However, 38% of adults have had to wait a week or more for an appointment. 

One in five people surveyed said they had to choose between a physical healthcare service and a mental health care service due to cost. A quarter had to choose between mental health care and paying for everyday needs. 

“It’s one of the medical specialties—psychiatry, even psychology—that has become, in part, a cash business,” Linda Rosenberg, CEO of the council, told FierceHealthcare. “It is very hard to find a practitioner to go to see who’s going to take your insurance.” 

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The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was passed in 2008, has led to some improvements in coverage for inpatient behavioral healthcare, but it failed to “raise the boat in terms of insurance payments” to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other providers, Rosenberg said. 

Solutions are on the horizon, though, she said. More collaborative care is a crucial piece to breaking down the cost barrier, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has helped to incentivize this by opening a code option that allows a primary care provider to connect with a social worker, care manager or other psychiatric expert through telehealth. 

Another piece, Rosenberg said, is emphasizing and ensuring access to lower-cost forms of behavioral healthcare, such as talk therapy. This is especially necessary for people who may not need extensive mental health treatment and can work through their problem in a couple of sessions, or even through emerging apps and video conferencing tools. 

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In addition to cost, proximity poses a major problem, according to the report. More than a third (34%) of respondents said that cost and poor insurance coverage prohibit them from accessing mental health care, while 42% say it’s a barrier for Americans broadly. The survey also found that nearly half of the respondents (46%) had to travel an hour or more to see a mental health care professional. 

There was one promising finding in the study, though: More people are seeking treatment for mental health issues, especially young people, which signals that long-standing stigmas against these concerns are breaking down, Rosenberg said. Younger patients are especially vulnerable to cultural stigmas and care what others think about them, so the fact that they’re beginning to buck the traditional trends on mental health is encouraging, she said. 

“You would never have seen that even five or 10 years ago,” Rosenberg said.