Study paints somber picture of US mental health status and access to care

April 17, 2017, New York University School of Medicine
Credit: George Hodan/public domain

More Americans than ever before suffer from serious psychological distress, and the country's ability to meet the growing demand for mental health services is rapidly eroding.

Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center analyzed a federal health information database and concluded that 3.4 percent of the U.S. population (more than 8.3 million) adult Americans suffer from serious , or SPD.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducts the National Health Interview Survey on which the research is based, SPD combines feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and restlessness that are hazardous enough to impair people's physical well-being. Previous survey estimates had put the number of Americans suffering from SPD at 3 percent or less.

The findings—believed to be the first analysis of its kind in more than a decade—were published in the journal Psychiatric Services online April 17. More than 35,000 U.S. households, involving more than 200,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64, in all states and across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, participate in the yearly survey.

Among the study's other key findings is that, over the course of the surveys from 2006 to 2014, access to health care services deteriorated for people suffering from severe distress when compared to those who did not report SPD.

"Although our analysis does not give concrete reasons why mental health services are diminishing, it could be from shortages in professional help, increased costs of care not covered by insurance, the great recession, and other reasons worthy of further investigation," says lead study investigator Judith Weissman, PhD, JD, a research manager in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone.

Weissman says the situation appears to have worsened even though the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) include provisions designed to help reduce insurance coverage disparities for people with . She adds that the new report can serve as a baseline for evaluating the impact of the ACA and in identifying disparities in treating the mentally ill.

Comparing self-reported SPD symptoms across nine years, the NYU Langone research team estimates that nearly one in 10 distressed Americans (9.5 percent) in 2014 still did not have health insurance that would give them access to a psychiatrist or counselor, a slight rise from 2006, when 9 percent lacked any insurance. About 10.5 percent in 2014 experienced delays in getting professional help due to insufficient mental health coverage, while 9.5 percent said they experienced such delays in 2006. And 9.9 percent could not afford to pay for their psychiatric medications in 2014, up from 8.7 percent in 2006.

"Based on our data, we estimate that millions of Americans have a level of emotional functioning that leads to lower quality of life and life expectancy," says Weissman. "Our study may also help explain why the U.S. suicide rate is up to 43,000 people each year."

She says her group's next research report will detail how underdiagnosis of SPD impacts physician practices and encourages overuse of other .

Senior study investigator and NYU Langone clinical professor Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH, who also serves as director of general internal medicine and clinical innovation, says physicians, especially in primary care, can play a bigger role in screening people and detecting signs of SPD and potential suicide.

"Utilizing tools at the time of intake on all patients allows us to collect important data and devise strategies for care," says Pegus. "Our study supports policies designed to incorporate and screenings into every physician's practice through the use of electronic medical records, and by providing training for all , as well as the right resources for patients."

Explore further: Mental distress common in survivors of teen, young adult CA

Related Stories

Mental distress common in survivors of teen, young adult CA

November 23, 2016
(HealthDay)—Survivors of adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer are more likely to have mental distress than individuals without cancer, but most do not talk to mental health professionals, according to a study published ...

People experiencing mental distress less likely to have health insurance

October 4, 2011
People with frequent mental distress are markedly more likely that than those with frequent physical distress to lack health insurance, according to research appearing the October issue of Psychiatric Services, a journal ...

Affordable Care Act has reduced racial/ethnic health disparities, study shows

December 2, 2015
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has significantly improved insurance coverage and use of health care for African Americans and Latinos, according to a new study led by researchers in the University of Maryland School of Public ...

Blacks and Latinos seek mental health care less often

July 19, 2013
Blacks and Latinos receive less adequate mental health care than Whites, finds a new study in Health Services Research.

Smoking greatly reduces life expectancy for those with serious mental illness

August 11, 2016
Smokers with serious mental illness have their lives cut short by about 15 years, compared with people who have never smoked and who do not have serious mental illness, research from the University of Michigan shows.

Women, poor, uninsured face higher risk of psychological distress: CDC

May 28, 2015
(HealthDay)—Women, people with chronic medical conditions, the poor and those without health insurance are more likely to struggle with "serious psychological distress," U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.