Americans Perceive Gaps in Mental, Physical Healthcare

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three-quarters of Americans think mental health issues are identified and treated worse than physical health issues in the U.S., according to a new survey from West Health and Gallup. This belief is even stronger among U.S. adults aged 65 and older and those who report they have experienced a mental health problem in the past year.

Overall, 38% of U.S. adults think mental health issues are handled “much worse” and 37% “somewhat worse” than physical health issues, while 15% say they are dealt with “about the same.” Just 4% think mental health issues are treated “somewhat better,” with 1% saying “much better.”

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Another measure in the survey asking Americans to evaluate how well the nation’s healthcare system deals with mental health conditions finds a similarly bleak assessment. Only 1% of U.S. adults grade its ability to address mental health issues as an A, 8% as a B, and 27% as a C. The remaining majority, 57%, grade it as a D (32%) or F (25%).

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The poll, which explores Americans’ views of various aspects of mental healthcare in the U.S., was conducted by web Feb. 2-14 via the nationally representative Gallup Panel.

Cost of Care for Mental Health Is Top Potential Barrier for Americans

Affordability (52%) and difficulty in finding a provider (42%) are the top two barriers to obtaining treatment for a mental or emotional health condition that Americans select among five choices. Fewer, though still significant shares, say believing they can deal with their condition without treatment (28%), feeling shame or embarrassment (27%), or thinking treatment would not help (24%) may keep them from seeking treatment.

Younger Americans are much more likely than their older counterparts to say the cost of care might stop them from seeking treatment. Roughly six in 10 adults younger than 50 say cost could be a barrier, compared with 46% of those aged 50 to 64 and 35% of those aged 65 and older.

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Fifty-one percent of survey respondents report that they have experienced depression, anxiety, or some other mental or emotional condition in the past 12 months. This group includes 22% who say their condition was so significant that it disrupted their normal activities, such as going to work or caring for their household, and 29% who say it did not rise to that level of disruption.

Those who say they have experienced a mental health condition in the past year are more likely than those who have not to say the cost of treatment, difficulty finding a provider, or shame or embarrassment might keep them from seeking treatment.

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Many See Mental Health Stigma, Especially Those Recently Affected

Seven in 10 Americans believe society views people with mental health conditions “very negatively” (13%) or “somewhat negatively” (57%), while about one in four say they are regarded “not very negatively” (18%) or “not at all negatively” (6%).

The belief that society stigmatizes people with mental health issues is particularly felt among those who have experienced such an issue in the past year. Among this group, 74% think people with mental health conditions are viewed negatively. Likewise, 75% of adults aged 65 and older think mental health conditions have a negative societal stigma — the highest among age groups. However, they are the least likely of all age groups to say shame or embarrassment might deter them from seeking treatment.

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Four in Five Americans Say Mental Health Conditions Have Increased in U.S.

In addition to believing mental health conditions are inadequately addressed in the U.S., there is a widespread perception among Americans that these conditions, including depression and anxiety, have increased over the past five years. More than 80% of U.S. adults say the incidence of such mental health problems has risen, including 42% who think they have increased “a lot” and 39% “somewhat.” Fewer, 10%, say the incidence is steady, while only 2% each say cases have decreased “somewhat” or “a lot.”

Women and adults younger than 50 are more likely than their counterparts to perceive an increase in the number of Americans with mental health issues, with nearly half of each group believing such conditions have increased “a lot” over the past five years.

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Psychological Counseling Seen as Effective by Majority of Americans

Americans’ concerns about how mental healthcare is addressed in this country are not necessarily tied to their belief about the efficacy of mental health treatments. More than half of U.S. adults, 53%, think psychological counseling or therapy is a “very effective” or “effective” treatment. Another 30% say it is “somewhat effective,” and 5% say it is “not at all effective.”

Fewer U.S. adults, 35%, think prescription medication is “very effective” or “effective,” while 42% say it is “somewhat” and 8% “not at all” effective.

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Americans who report recent experience with a mental health condition are among the most likely to believe in the efficacy of counseling.

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Demographic differences are less stark in views of prescription medication as a treatment for mental health conditions; however, young adults are among the least likely to consider it effective.

Implications

Most Americans do not believe care for mental health conditions is on par with care for physical conditions. Though many view treatments such as counseling or prescription medication as effective, others deem them unaffordable or inaccessible or say negative stigma or their ability to self-treat might keep them away.

Overall, nearly six in 10 Americans think the way mental health conditions are addressed is either poor or failing, while only 1% think it is excellent. Policymakers are working to close the gaps between care for people with physical issues and those with mental health conditions, but there is a lot of room for improvement in the minds of Americans. Greater attention to reaching parity between mental and physical health could help further ensure mental and emotional health are given the appropriate attention within the U.S. healthcare system.

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