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Need Mental Health Treatment in 2 Weeks? Fat Chance

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

Need Mental Health Treatment in 2 Weeks? Fat Chance

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Need Mental Health Treatment in 2 Weeks? Fat Chance. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Jul 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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