While the barriers between individuals and mental healthcare become less daunting with each passing day, they still exist. Mental and behavioral health services are easier now than ever to access, yet some patients still delay or avoid treatment. For those who have fought to increase access, this may seem confusing, but it is rather common. Thousands of individuals across the country put off getting the care they need even though it could help them. Why do they do this?
6 Reasons that Individuals Delay or Avoid Treatment:
- Stigma – Stigma refers to the societal disapproval toward the receiving of mental healthcare. This might manifest itself as feelings of shame around the fact that the patient is in need of services. Stigma develops for many reasons but was established mostly because of a lack of understanding of how mental and behavioral health worked. While we have a greater understanding of how mental health works today, and that many, if not most people, would benefit from some form of mental health treatment, old stigma is still woven into society and is still impacting patients. An individual might delay seeking care because they have internalized stigma toward the field that they have yet to get passed.
- Cost – For most of recent history, a large barrier to mental health services has been cost. Insurance companies have not done a great job of providing adequate coverage for mental health services, making them difficult to afford. Over time, the industry has expanded coverage quite a bit, but there is still a lot of work to be done. A patient might avoid treatment because it is out of their budget, or they assume it will be.
- Lack of Understanding – Not everyone has a great understanding of how mental health services work. This uncertainty can be concerning for some individuals who are not eager to jump into new things. If an individual isn’t familiar with how services work, then they might avoid it out of a place of ignorance.
- Feelings of Failure – Closely intertwined with internalized stigma toward mental health is fear of failure. Some people view needing to seek out mental health services as a form of failure to themselves. It feels to them that their efforts to feel better were not enough, and they’ve let themselves down by needing help from outside sources. In reality, services can be a place of empowerment and strength.
- Trust – The idea of talking to a stranger is frightening or unappealing to some people. A person might avoid care because they do not know how they feel about sharing personal details with someone they have never met before. There may be a lack of trust at the start of the provider-patient relationship.
- Loneliness/Isolation – Feelings of loneliness can often make someone feel isolated or that no one is capable of helping them. This might cause someone to avoid treatment if they feel like they won’t benefit from it.
- Inconvenience – Some people lead very busy lives and feel they do not have time to dedicate a couple of hours of their month to services. For those that work full-time jobs, having to drive to and from appointments could put a strain on their work life. Not only this, but for those suffering from symptoms like low motivation or fatigue, the idea of taking yourself to an appointment can often be overwhelming.
How Providers Can Break Down These Barriers:
- Spread the Word – Take part in the efforts to break down the stigma surrounding mental health services. Inform your patients and community about how mental and behavioral health services work and why they are beneficial to those who utilize them. The more information an individual has, the more likely they are to take part.
- Utilize Telehealth – Telehealth is covered by insurance providers now more than ever before and is an incredible resource for increasing accessibility and convenience in the field of mental and behavioral health. It allows patients to seek treatment remotely, minimizing disruptions to their schedule and allowing them to attend appointments more easily.
- Partner with the Right Insurance Companies – Identify which insurance companies are the most used in your area and make sure you are able to file claims with them. This increases the likelihood that the patients that come to see you will have coverage that you accept, decreasing the concern of cost.
- Increased Price Transparency – Be open and honest about the cost of services so that the patient knows what to expect. Once you have their insurance information, work with the patient to communicate what their out-of-pocket costs are expected to be so that they do not have to experience sticker shock down the line.
Whatever the reason, patients who avoid or delay mental health treatment often do so for a reason. Providers who do their part to destigmatize the field and make services more accessible with tools like telehealth will see more individuals access the care they need.