In Brief

Nearly half of American households have had someone seek mental health treatment this year, but many still perceive cost and lack of insurance coverage as barriers to seeking help, according to a recent national poll by APA's Practice Directorate. The poll--a telephone survey of 1,000 randomly selected Americans between the ages of 18 and 64--also shows that stigma about seeking mental health treatment is increasingly less of an obstacle to getting treatment. The Practice Directorate conducts such a poll every few years to gauge public sentiment about mental health care.

Indeed, 48 percent of those polled reported a visit to a mental health professional by someone in their household this year, and more than nine out of 10--91 percent--said they would likely consult or recommend a mental health professional if they or a family member were experiencing a problem.

"We've made progress in people's attitudes toward getting mental health treatment or seeking it for their loved ones," says Russ Newman, PhD, JD, APA's executive director for professional practice. "But cost, lack of insurance and access still can be barriers for people in getting the help they need."

In fact, 87 percent of those polled pointed to lack of insurance coverage as a barrier to seeking treatment, and 81 percent pointed to cost concerns.

The survey also found that:

  • Eighty-five percent of respondents thought that health insurance should cover mental health services, up from a reported 79 percent in 2000, when the Practice Directorate conducted a similar poll.

  • Ninety-seven percent of respondents considered access to mental health services "important," but only 70 percent feel they have adequate access to mental health care.

  • Only 30 percent of respondents were concerned about other people finding out if they sought mental health treatment, and 20 percent said that stigma is "a very important reason not to seek help" from a mental health professional.

  • Nearly half of those polled--47 percent--said that the stigma surrounding mental health services has decreased in recent years.

A similar poll released in May, "Therapy in America 2004," and co-sponsored by Psychology Today magazine and PacifiCare Behavioral Health, found that an estimated 59 million people have received mental health treatment in the past two years, and that 80 percent of them have found it effective.

Respondents to the poll--a phone survey of 501 adults followed by an online survey of 1,731 people known to have needed or received treatment--pointed to cost, lack of confidence that treatment helps and lack of health insurance as treatment barriers.

--J. CHAMBERLIN

Further Reading

For more information on the Practice Directorate poll, visit www.apa.org/releases/practicepoll_04.html.