While Americans are now more aware of mental health issues than ever before, almost half of Americans with mental health disorders do not seek professional help according to a report from the nonprofit organisation Sapiens Labs. This is despite advances in both medical science and public health policies related to the care of mental health issues.
In some areas, healthcare responders are already using the latest techniques and specialized technologies to deliver care to individuals with mental health issues. However, many of the people who may benefit from these advances do not seek help.
Here are some of the most common reasons why people may avoid getting help for their mental health.
Mental illness is, in most cases, ‘invisible’ and can only be detected by the close observation of behaviours. The kinds of behaviours and behavioural patterns that require medical attention are not always obvious to either affected individuals or their loved ones.
Thus, there are often situations where an affected individual may understand that there is something wrong with their mental health but do not understand the significance or severity of their symptoms. They may not realise that they have an illness or they may even assume that what they are experiencing is normal for most people.
This limited awareness may also extend to the people who spend the most time with the affected individual. Unless someone has studied mental health, it can be all too easy to see symptoms of a mental health issue as personality traits or otherwise normal reactions to stressors. These misunderstandings may also be harder to spot if an affected individual seems to be otherwise thriving personally or professionally.
Practical and financial barriers
In many cases, affected individuals may be seeking help but are prevented from doing so by their financial situation or other circumstances.
For instance, parents with mental health issues may not be able to reliably attend therapy sessions due to the pressing needs of their children. Likewise, people who lack reliable transportation or are unable to qualify for a driver’s license may find it challenging to seek treatment even if they want to.
Thankfully, more inclusive medical care guidelines, wider insurance coverage, and modern technologies like non-emergency medical services software – which makes non-emergency medical transport (NEMT) more accessible to mental health patients – are starting to help resolve many of these practical barriers.
Anosognosia (a lack of self-awareness)
Some people with mental illness may exhibit anosognosia, a condition where a patient is unaware of their own psychiatric condition. This is different from having limited awareness or simply being in denial, as people with anosognosia have total confidence that they are not ill.
Anosognosia is not universal among people with severe mental illnesses and some conditions tend to be more associated with the condition. People with damage to the frontal lobes of the brain or those with conditions such as schizophrenia or narcissistic personality disorder are more likely to have anosognosia.
Individuals with anosognosia are highly unlikely to seek professional help, even if they engage in behaviours that clearly indicate a mental illness to outside observers. This often means that individuals with some types of illnesses who live alone may never consider seeking treatment.
Distrust of the healthcare system
According to the National Institutes of Health, distrust of the healthcare system is relatively high in the US, with a majority of respondents expressing at least some distrust of specific aspects of the system. Other research indicates that this distrust is also affected by income levels as well as ethnic background.
This distrust has led to an unfortunate situation where affected individuals who are fully aware that they need professional treatment may choose to not seek help from the mainstream medical system. This can, unfortunately, cause their condition to worsen and become more difficult to treat.
Fear of stigmatisation
Despite a better overall understanding of mental health today, the stigmatization of mental health issues still runs strong in American culture. Many individuals want to avoid being labelled ‘crazy’ as they may fear that there will be negative repercussions on their professional and personal lives. This may cause people to resist admitting a mental illness.
Unfortunately, these fears are not completely unfounded and individuals who do admit to having a mental illness may face discrimination. This often further reinforces an affected person’s resistance to finding professional help, even when they are faced with extreme distress and discomfort.
Perception of inadequacy
There is a common belief that people who have mental illnesses are somehow ‘weak’ or have failed to build their mental toughness. Individuals with such beliefs may acknowledge that they are mentally ill but they may disagree that they need outside help. This may not only cause them to avoid seeking expert advice but it may also cause their condition to worsen, over time.
The availability of mental health services tends to be unevenly distributed in favour of dense urban centres. Rural or sparsely populated areas tend to lack adequate mental health services or enough professionals with the right specialisations to treat the full range of mental health disorders. This means that many areas are perpetually underserved when it comes to mental health.
For affected individuals or families living in these areas, this can be a serious problem, particularly if they lack insurance or financial resources. The cost of seeking treatment outside one’s local area is typically higher and may cause affected individuals to not seek professional help.
People affected by mental health issues may express pessimism about their chances of getting better. Though having occasional pessimistic thoughts is normal for most people undergoing emotional distress, having entrenched beliefs that one may never recover can be a serious barrier to seeking recovery.
Such beliefs may be caused by depression or other mental health issues that distort the individual’s perception of reality. These feelings may be further reinforced by external issues such as a lack of support or financial difficulties.
Though the problem remains challenging, improvements in healthcare policy and technology are starting to encourage more individuals with mental health issues to seek treatment. Healthcare providers are already taking active steps to improve the availability and level of mental healthcare through new techniques, better training, and improved tools. With time, we may finally see help become available to everyone who needs it.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.