Professional Help for Mental Illness

A recent study points out the large numbers of adults with common and treatable mental disorders who don’t seek professional help.

Researchers in New York surveyed more than 8,000 adults between ages 15 and 54 to determine the degree of mental illness and help-seeking behavior. From that group, nearly 1,800 individuals were chosen to participate in the study, which measured the person’s perceived need versus the actual pursuit of professional care. Of the 571 participants who perceived a need for professional care, only 50 percent sought such help.

Study participants with mood and anxiety disorders were the most likely to perceive a need for help, while those with substance abuse were associated with the lowest rate of perceived need. Suicidal thoughts also were thought to strongly affect perceived need. However, none of these predictors of perceived need affected the likelihood that those same people would seek professional help. In fact, older age, having a physical condition, and positive attitudes toward the mental health profession were more likely to cause someone to seek care. Further, of those who sought professional help, only 44 percent went to see mental health professionals. In most cases, those who visited a mental health provider were suffering from mood, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, suggesting that those who perceived their condition as severe were more likely to go directly to a mental health professional.

Researchers believe changing behavior and attitudes will help reduce the gap between need and care, as well as help meet the unmet needs of mental health care.

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