Need Mental Health Treatment in 2 Weeks? Fat ChanceSo let’s say you needed mental health treatment right away. Let’s say it’s an emergency — so much so that you sought out help at the local emergency department, and the doctors there said that you absolutely needed to get into treatment immediately — within a week or two.

Now, let’s assume you’ve got good private insurance. You know, something like Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts Preferred Provider Organization. This is one of the best insurance policies you can buy in Massachusetts.

What sort of chance would you have in getting to see a mental health professional within two weeks? 90%? 80%? 70%?

How about just over 6%? Welcome to the American healthcare system.

That was the finding of researchers who decided to undertake a real-world experiment to understand how hard or easy it was to get access to timely mental health treatment when they posed as patients who needed care within 2 weeks.

In each call, they claimed to be patients who had been diagnosed in an emergency department with depression and told to see a mental health professional urgently, within two weeks.

Only 12.5% of the mental health facilities offered an appointment — and the appointment was within the requested two weeks in only 6.2% of cases, the researchers reported.

A total of 23% of calls were never returned — even when callers left two messages — and another 23% of callers were told that they needed to have a primary care provider within the system.

The researchers telephoned all 64 Blue Cross Blue Shield in-network psychiatric facilities within 10 miles of the center of Boston. The response rate noted above is just astounding, not even receiving a return telephone call from nearly a quarter of all the facilities they contacted.

Blue Cross Blue Shield should be proud of themselves — this is the quality of their provider network. Not filtered through some marketing BS, but the honest truth in an objective sample. Mental health providers have long known of these problems, but being able to illustrate them in a way that catches anyone attention has always been challenging.

“This result confirms our suspicion that even for patients with private insurance, mental health services in the Boston area are severely limited,” Nardin and colleagues wrote.

Multiple factors are likely to contribute to the failures of the mental health system, including large numbers of mentally ill patients being homeless and in jail. Insurers also severely limit patients’ access to care.

“As our study shows, this is often covert; insurers provide lists of in-network providers, but most are unavailable,” they observed.

Reimbursements also fall short, and mental health clinicians in private practice often accept no insurance at all. [...]

“Health insurers know that and yet, thanks to their restrictive provider networks and their low reimbursement rates for psychiatric services, they’ve created a situation where a patient with a potentially life-threatening disorder, such as the severe depression portrayed in our callers’ scenario, is essentially abandoned at a time of great need,” [noted one of the researchers].

Luckily, most people seeking mental health treatment don’t need it in 2 weeks’ time.

But it would be nice, wouldn’t it? Especially in a country that seems to live in the delusional world that it has the best healthcare in the world. This study demonstrates quite the opposite.

Read the full article: Medical News: Barriers High in Mental Health Care



View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 19 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.


No trackbacks yet to this post.

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Jul 2011
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2011). Need Mental Health Treatment in 2 Weeks? Fat Chance. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from


Recent Comments
  • John M. Grohol, Psy.D.: We criticize unethical practices here all the time. Sometimes our choice of language is...
  • L: I’m curious about why the comments about how incongruous it is to find the statement “you are an...
  • Tru Le: The truth is, when you are “in nature” (inside the matrix), pain is certain and suffering is...
  • carla: Some good and some trite and some wrong advice. A victim can be completely innocent and not needing to face...
  • Alexis: I am so glad I finally looked more into this. I started having panic attacks at the end of this past July due...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code