According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 59% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. One in five individuals experience a mental illness each year which underscores the critical need for mental healthcare access across all patient populations. Despite these statistics, there are several major barriers that stand in the way of people obtaining help for mental illness.

The limited care access is by no means due to a lack of patient motivation. Recent studies have demonstrated that lack awareness, stigma, cost, and shortage of mental health professionals are some of the most prominent factors standing in the way of individuals pursuing metal health treatment. Let’s take a look at how these obstacles impact access to much needed mental health treatment and resources.

Lack of Awareness

While most Americans do try to seek out treatment for mental illness, there is a large portion of the population who either do not recognize their mental illness or do not know how to go about getting help. Physical injuries and illnesses are obvious, but mental health symptoms may be subtle and dismissed as a personality or attitude issue. People assume that their emotional and mental status is normal, not realizing that they are suffering from disordered thinking. For those who do recognize that something is wrong, studies have shown that a lack of awareness of available sources of help is a significant barrier.


Studies have found that the stigma associated with mental illness often prevents people from accessing treatment. On one hand, an individual’s own beliefs about mental illness can prevent them from acknowledging their illness or sticking with treatment. On the other hand, the risk of stigma and discrimination in social and professional circles creates a huge barrier. “You could control your mental illness, if you only tried.” This stigma is shameful and embarrassing for those struggling with a mental health disorder, so much so that seeking treatment is avoided. Fear of discrimination and retaliation in the workplace is also real, making it less likely that individuals will pursue mental health services.


The Affordable Care Act required medical insurers to provide coverage for behavioral and mental healthcare, but the cost of treatment still remains a barrier to mental health services. For many, high deductibles and out of pocket expenses prevent them from seeking help. For others, the financial obstacles can lead to inconsistent or inadequate treatment. Even though the Affordable Care Act has pushed the uninsured rate to an all time low, there are still approximately 27 million Americans without insurance.

Shortage of Mental Health Professionals

One of the primary causes for limited mental healthcare access is that there are not enough qualified professionals to meet the demand. Overall the nation is experiencing a clinician shortage, and the mental health field is not immune to this. According to U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration, 60% of Americans live in a mental health provider shortage area. As a result, many individuals experiencing a mental health crisis might be wait listed before they can get access to a mental health provider. Patients might also have to travel long distances to visit a clinician if there is not one in their area. In order to fill this gap, 7,000 more mental health clinicians are needed. Ultimately, this shortage is making it hard for patients to access care.

If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health issues, don’t hesitate to contact us today to request an appointment. We are a network of full-service mental health clinics helping people heal mental health disorders with a combination of traditional therapies and innovative, holistic modalities.

About the Author

Kimberly Sandberg Aloha Integrative Health
Kim Sandberg is the owner and founder of Aloha Integrative Health and a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. She has two advanced degrees: a Masters of Science in Nursing as a Nurse Anesthetist and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. She has worked in a variety of settings, though the biggest impact on Kim and her work came from her 28 years of service in the Navy Reserve.

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