When someone is experiencing a mental health condition, the solution should seem similar to someone who is sick with the flu. You go to the doctor. A provider works with you to find a solution to help you address your condition and help you feel better. While it is never this simple of a comparison, the sentiment still stands. People need to seek the help of a mental health provider when they need help with their mental and emotional health.

The reality is that too many people go without the care they need and instead, turn to other resources that feel helpful, but are damaging. Many individuals that experience mental health issues and do not/cannot seek the help of a provider end up self-medicating.

What Does Self-Medication Mean?

When someone self-medicates, they are choosing to take something on their own rather than at the instruction of a provider. An example of this is when a provider prescribes an antidepressant to a patient that came to them with Major Depressive Disorder. Someone who self-medicates would skip the appointment and instead turn to alcohol, which they feel may temporarily ease their symptoms.

Why Do People Self-Medicate?

  • Coping Strategies – Many of the reasons people self-medicate can be boiled down to using it as a coping strategy. Whether someone is using substances to cope with trauma, to deal with grief, to manage stress, to feel better, or any other number of reasons, many of the people who self-medicate are doing it as a method to cope with something in their life.
  • They’re Afraid – Some individuals fear getting the help they know could truly help them. Facing difficult mental health related issues can seem daunting. People know that things like this could be painful for them to address, so rather than seek help for their mental health conditions, they turn to self-medication.
  • No Access to a Provider – Some individuals do not have access to a provider who can help them, so they seek out methods to help themselves. Whether they live in a mental health desert, they do not have a way to get to and from appointments, or they simply cannot afford to seek care, access to a provider is a huge barrier for many who would benefit from it.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse:

There is a well-documented relationship between mental health conditions and substance abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Use, many of those who have substance use disorders are also diagnosed with mental health conditions, and vice versa. They go on to say that roughly half of those who deal with mental health conditions go on to deal with substance use issues.

How Unmet Mental Health Needs Lead to Self-Medication

As was mentioned before, lack of access to a mental health provider is an easy path to self-medication. For this reason, it is vital that providers and communities find new ways to broaden access to mental and behavioral health services. While there is much to be done in this area, there are several steps providers can take to increase access to care. Those steps include:

  1. Increase Price Transparency – Part of the stigma that exists around mental health is that many people still believe it to be more expensive than it truly is. Coverage is at an all-time high and the more information individuals can have around cost, the last daunting it seems. If they can plan and prepare for the cost of the care, the more likely they are to participate in it.
  2. Telehealth – Telehealth eliminates barriers to care that keep patients from physically accessing providers. It allows patients to access therapits remotely so that issues like distance and travel are no longer obstacles, making it easier to receive care. With fewer barriers, there is less of a chance that an individual might try to self-medicate or try to solve their issues on their own.
  3. Patient Portal – Patient/client engagement is a critical component of their care. Those that play a more active role in their mental health care are more likely to adhere to their care plan. With higher adherence to care plans, individuals may be less likely to medicate themselves.

The more barriers that providers can eliminate the greater resources they provide their clients, patients and community, the better access individuals will have to important mental health services.