Due to many known and unknown factors, the prevalence of mental health issues is higher today than ever before. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 US adults experiences mental illness every year. 1 in 25 experience a serious mental illness in the same time period. Yet only about one-third of those who could benefit from treatment turn to mental health professionals. There are many barriers to mental health treatment that still prevent people from receiving the help they need.

In this post, we will outline the three most common barriers to effective treatment. Each of them is a valid reason why someone isn’t going into therapy, but many people with mental illness likely face a combination of them. 

Stigma and Discrimination

Perhaps the most apparent barrier to mental health treatment are stigmas associated with mental illness. With so many public figures and celebrities openly discussing mental health problems on social media, the stigma may not be as severe as it used to be, but it is still present. 

The main reason for not seeking mental health treatment is the fear of rejection or ridicule from the public, even those we are close to. The societal stigma of mental illness can lead to lowered self-esteem, shame, diminished quality of life, and the concealment of symptoms. Even if someone who suffers from mental illness makes contact with their primary care physician, stigma prevents them from talking about their mental health concerns. This is especially true for people suffering from substance use disorders and major depression. 

Suicide is still mostly a taboo topic in our society. Even though people like to declare that they would participate in suicide prevention, few are actually willing to have serious discussions about mental health conditions, especially suicidal thoughts.

Stigma and discrimination are so powerful that they can even lead to dropping out of treatment for someone who has started their road to recovery. 

Financial Difficulties

Like with all other forms of health treatment, the financial barrier is one of the main reasons for delaying or avoiding treatment. Studies show that seeking mental health care is more sensitive to price than seeking other kinds of medical care. It is a wide belief that mental health is not as important as physical health, leading patients to be more open to giving money for other health services. 

Those who have health insurance (regardless of whether it is public or private insurance) are more likely to consult a mental health professional, but only if their insurance coverage extends to mental health services. Typically, health insurance carriers impose restrictions on mental health treatments.

The problem with health insurance is that those who have a mental disorder are more likely to lose their insurance due to losing their job. People with mental illness tend to have lower access to care, even when they desire to seek treatment.

Mental Health Systems

In the past, mental health services have been severely fragmented. Patients had to break through disorganization, complicated administration, eligibility rules, and too long waiting times to even make their first mental health care appointment. The fragmentation of mental health systems is particularly hard on people with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Nowadays, the disorganization of the mental health care system isn’t as bad, though it is far from ideal. Structural barriers are still a significant factor in preventing patients from receiving the care they need. 

The solution to this would be better integration of different levels of care, such as: 

  • Community treatment for children and adolescents with serious emotional problems
  • Intensive care management for those with severe mental illnesses
  • Management programs for late-life depression in primary care
  • Combined treatment for people with mental and substance abuse issues, and more

Another set of mental health treatment barriers presents itself when it becomes evident that one size does not fit all. If a program or treatment procedure works for one group of patients, it does not necessarily work for all. Special attention should be paid to minority groups and rural populations. Rural areas report a more significant number of suicide attempts than urban settings, mostly because of a lack of access to mental health services.

How to Break Through the Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

The first and foremost thing to understand is that you are not alone. As you’ve seen in the statistics mentioned above, mental health issues are quite common among people of all ages and backgrounds. There is nothing shameful or wrong about having a mental illness, just as there is nothing shameful or wrong about suffering from diabetes or asthma. Seeking mental health care is vital for a happy, successful life. 

If your insurance doesn’t cover mental health service and you don’t think you could afford it, several organizations can help: 

  • Mental Health America offices in your area
  • If you are an eligible veteran, you may want to look into the US Department of Veterans Affairs (877-222-8387)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration offers affordable services (800-662-4357)
  • Right Way Recovery services will find a mental health (and substance abuse) program that works for any budget

If you find the healthcare system too confusing and overwhelming, these organizations will also help you navigate it better. 


As everyone has been learning for the past couple of decades, mental health cannot be neglected. Mental illness can negatively impact a person’s life just as much as a physical disability. You must learn to recognize the signs that you may be unwell. It is even more important that you find a professional who will provide you with the help you need. 

The three most common barriers to mental health treatment are societal stigma and discrimination, financial barriers, and a needlessly convoluted mental health system. There are ways to break through these barriers and ensure you get the proper care. Look for organizations that offer free or inexpensive assessments and programs, as well as local clinics that will be happy to lend you a hand.

If you have any more questions on overcoming obstacles and finding the type of treatment that will work for you, contact us at Right Way Recovery.