Despite Increasing Awareness, Youth’s Access to Mental Health Care is Worryingly Low

Though mental health is finally starting to get some of the recognition it deserves, awareness and action are still not in step. This is according to a major survey of over 10,000 13-18 year olds, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). We know from prior research that about on in five teens are affected with a “severe mental disorder” of some kind. This means that at least that many would directly benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor to help them address their personal needs. Yet in the NIMH’s recent study, only 36% of the teens who needed help reported actually receiving any. Those who did had seen a therapist, counselor, or other professional fewer than six times during their entire lifetime.

The survey also parsed out which types of mental health needs were more likely to be treated, as well as which subsets of teens were most likely to receive therapy. On one end, teens with ADHD had a 60% treatment rate; on the other, eating disorders were treated just 13% of the time. Depression, bipolar, anxiety, and substance abuse were all in the middle. Non-Hispanic whites and females were more likely to receive counseling than were ethnic minorities and males.

The causes of this gap between awareness and treatment are comprehensive and highly-debated. One contributing factor is the fact that, despite parents’ good intentions, they still may not recognize what mental health needs look like in a teen or adolescent. For example, teen depression and adult depression often present differently, making it difficult for parents and teachers to distinguish normal teenage angst and rebellion from deeper troubles. Then there is the issue of funding. Many people’s private insurance policies don’t cover therapy and counseling, write Melissa Healy and Eryn Brown in an L.A. Times piece assessing factors that may have contributed to the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona. “But with community mental services stretched taut by budget cuts and growing need, these are not the best of times” for those relying on publicly-funded services either. There’s no quick fix to the problem of untreated mental health concerns among young persons, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed nonetheless.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Cody T

    Cody T

    January 13th, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    There are so many issues facing the treatment of mental health problems among people in general.There is no one single thing that holds key to the solution but a set of things which really need to be implemented on a war footing by the authorities or whoever concerned. I would like to list out a few things here:

    ->Universal health insurance(Total coverage without any stupid asterisks)
    ->Lowering of instances of families breaking apart
    ->Awareness

  • Bradley

    Bradley

    January 13th, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    The government should introduce a mandatory mental health assessment for all school children on an annual basis, starting from the year they begin school until the year they leave. They should also have the necessary facilities and funding in place to handle any forms of treatment needed.

    Who could possibly object to that? It would catch mental health issues sooner and get them treated faster. We need to stem this tide of teenagers with severe mental disorders. One in five? That’s 20%, people! This is our society’s future. Take care of them now.

  • Eleanor

    Eleanor

    January 13th, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    @Cody T: You’re inferring that parents would rather keep a teenager needing mental help under wraps to stay together, than seek help for them in case doing so broke them up? Heck, how selfish is that! Whose needs are the parents addressing there? Certainly not the teen’s.

  • jeanette

    jeanette

    January 14th, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    That’s flawed logic if ever I heard it, Cody T. If the child needs help, and that help’s not on the doorstep, the parents have no moral right to withhold that help just because they don’t like it. If I were their child, I’d resent them for the rest of my life knowing I could have got professional help and they stood in the way of that. That would break the family up just the same. At least if they get the help there’s a possibility their child could return to them in better shape than ever.

  • Winona

    Winona

    January 14th, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    I bet if they deducted all the ADHD diagnoses from those statistics that ratio of one in five would be drastically reduced. ADHD is overdiagnosed and very misunderstood in my opinion. The fad of ADHD hysteria deserved to die off long ago.

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