While some media outlets are reporting that a recently published study implicates mental health stigma as one of the primary reasons for people not seeking out treatment, that’s only a part of the story.
Glossed over by most media reports of the study is that the study actually found larger barriers to treatment that pale in comparison next to the concept of “stigma” (or, more accurately, discrimination and prejudice).
Let’s take a quick look…
Foregoing mental health treatment for a serious mental illness — such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anything else — can result in more serious problems down the road. For decades, researchers have been studying why some people don’t get treatment. Their findings suggest it is a complex set of reasons behind this reluctance to seek out treatment.
The latest study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, reviewed findings from 144 studies that covered a population of nearly 90,000 subjects. The researchers specifically looked at barriers to treatment reported in these studies, and pooled the findings to come up with ten barriers to getting mental health treatment.
The fourth most common reason for not seeking treatment was stigma-associated. Yeah, fourth. But the new study, conducted at King’s College London, was only focused on examining stigma-associated reasons. The researchers didn’t really examine — and therefore, discuss — much about the other nine reasons.
So what are some of the top reasons people don’t seek treatment for mental illness? Self-sufficiency — wanting to handle the problem on one’s own — and simply feeling that they didn’t need treatment for the issue. Perhaps the issue was mild enough that although it was impacting their lives in some significant ways, they had found ways to cope with it nonetheless.
The researchers also note that for young people, the barriers may be a bit different than the rest of the population:
A systematic review of barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people showed the key barriers to be stigma, confidentiality issues, lack of accessibility, self-reliance, low knowledge about mental health services and fear/stress about the act of help-seeking or the source of help itself (Gulliver et al. 2010).
Stigma was only reported to be a barrier to treatment by approximately a quarter to one-third of the participants. So, to be clear, most subjects in the studies reviewed did not see stigma as a significant barrier.
In addition to self-sufficiency and not seeing the need for care, gaining access to treatment in a timely and affordable manner has also been cited in past research as barriers to treatment.
Although stigma, discrimination and prejudice remain serious concerns for those seeking out mental health treatment, they are not the foremost concerns any longer among most people. That’s good news for organizations like ours who’ve spent the past 19 years online helping educate people about the basics of mental disorders and getting good mental health treatment for their concerns. It’s working, and we’re glad to hear we’ve helped make an impact.
Clement et al. (2014). What is the impact of mental health-related stigma on help-seeking? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies. Psychological Medicine. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291714000129