Even though 27 percent of Americans have received treatment or therapy from a mental health professional, few people know that health insurers are required to provide coverage for mental health, behavioral health and substance-use disorders that is comparable to coverage for physical health, according to a new APA survey.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was passed in 2008, yet only 4 percent of Americans say they are aware of the law, according to the survey, which was conducted online between March 7 and 24 among more than 1,000 adult Americans by Harris Poll.

Despite increased national attention on mental health and access to services, in particular with the ongoing National Dialogue on Mental Health led by the White House, awareness of the law has not increased since APA last surveyed on this issue in 2010.

"More access to mental health care is the rallying cry, but the simple fact is many people may already have coverage and not know it or not understand how to use it," says Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA's executive director for professional practice.

While the APA survey found that 61 percent of adults reported that they have adequate mental health coverage, many reported details of their insurance coverage that are at odds with provisions of the parity law:

  • 29 percent of Americans said their insurance has different co-pays or other limits for mental health care.
  • 24 percent said they aren't sure if their insurance offers the same coverage for mental and physical health.
  • 56 percent said that their current health insurance provides coverage to see a psychologist or other mental health professional.

When asked why they or a family member would not seek treatment, concern about the cost of treatment was the most frequently cited reason, with 22 percent saying that cost was a barrier to seeking treatment. When asked what information they would need before being treated by a psychologist or mental health professional, 75 percent said they would need to know if they take insurance, whereas 68 percent said they would need to know if they are comfortable with their provider.

The full methodology of the survey is available online.