As Americans’ Mental Health Suffers, So Does Access to Care

The number of Americans suffering from psychological stress is increasing, while access to care is declining, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center.

Gaining access to mental health care is becoming increasingly difficult in the US, despite the growing number of Americans suffering from psychological distress, a new NYU study says.

woman with hand to get - looking stressedNYU’s Langone Medical Center  has found that while more than 8 million adults in the US suffer from serious psychological distress, or SPD, those seeking mental health care face many hurdles, and the situation seems to be worsening.

“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,” Judith Weissman, a research manager in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

To conduct the study, Weissman and team researched responses to the annual National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Factors covered in the survey included access to health insurance, money available for medications, changing providers because of a change in insurance and access to money for health care, among others. The researchers studied interviews of about 35,000 households, or about 200,000 adults aged 18 to 64.

According to Weissman and team, the number of Americans who say they do not have access to a mental health professional or are unable to pay for medications has increased during the past 8 years, despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. In 2014, about 1 in 10 adults with SPD did not even have the health insurance needed to treat the condition, and adults with SPD are more likely to lack insurance than those without the condition.

SPD is defined as “mental health problems severe enough to cause moderate-to-serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning and to require treatment,” according to the CDC. Symptoms include persistent feelings of sadness and worthlessness.

“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,” Weissman said in the press release. “Our study may also help explain why the U.S. suicide rate is up to 43,000 people each year.”

According to senior study investigator Dr. Cheryl Pegus, a professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU, these findings indicate not only a greater need for mental health resources, but also a need for integrating mental health into general care.

“Our study supports health policies designed to incorporate mental health services and screenings into every physician’s practice through the use of electronic medical records, and by providing training for all healthcare professionals, as well as the right resources for patients,” Dr. Pegus said.

This study was published April 17, 2017 in the online edition of the journal Psychiatric Services.

The study was funded by NYU Langone.

Conflicts of interest were unavailable at time of publication.


CDC, “National Health Interview Survey”
NCHS, “Serious Psychological Distress Among Adults: United States, 2009–2013”
NYU Langone, “Study Paints Somber Picture of U.S. Mental Health Status & Access to Care”
Psychiatric Services, “Disparities in Health Care Utilization and Functional Limitations Among Adults With Serious Psychological Distress, 2006–2014”
Written by: Neha Kashyap | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.