Mental Health Gap

Mental health is a state of well-being that enables people to realize their abilities, cope with life’s challenges, and participate in society and work productively. Mental illness is a global issue that affects almost every community in some way. It can be caused by a wide range of conditions, including schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance use. Despite its prevalence, many people do not seek help. Lack of funding and poor access to treatment are key barriers. This is especially true for people living in poverty and those from marginalized communities, such as people of color, LGBT persons, and adolescents.

In addition, research suggests that mental illness is linked to high-risk behaviors such as substance misuse and physical inactivity, which can lead to additional medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Studies also show that people with chronic depression have a 20 percent lower life expectancy than those who do not experience depression.

Moreover, the negative mental health impacts of the pandemic and related issues, such as heightened racism and gun violence, may have been more pronounced among certain populations. These factors, combined with ongoing barriers to care such as poverty and poor parity enforcement under the Mental Health Parity Act of 2008 (PHPA), contribute to worsened mental health outcomes.

As a result, more than one in five adults in the United States say that their mental health is only fair or poor. This figure rises to nearly six in ten among young people and those from racial minority groups. In addition, approximately half of people with a mental health condition report that they have not received the treatment that they need. The causes of this gap are complex. For example, some people avoid seeking care because they think that a mental illness is a sign of weakness, or because they have been stigmatized or discriminated against.

In order to address the mental health gap, a multisectoral approach is needed that addresses prevention, treatment, and recovery support. A key component is education to raise awareness, promote acceptance and reduce stigma around mental illness. Another component is the development of innovative approaches to early diagnosis, treatment and care. These include a variety of psychosocial interventions that focus on positive functioning, sensory strategies, managing emotions, interpersonal relationships, sleep, and community engagement. Moreover, interventions should be tailored to individual needs and include a combination of pharmaceutical and non-pharmacological options. In addition, they should be based on the latest scientific evidence. Lastly, the approach should be holistic and integrated into existing systems of care.