Study Shows More Mental Illness, but Decline in Getting Help

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The number of people who said they couldn't afford to get mental health help from a mental health professional increased during the 10 years of the study.

But experts said an increasing number of people may be turning to their primary care doctors to get treatment for anxiety, depression and other common psychological issues. In 2010, the American Medical Association reported that one-third of patients relied only on their regular physician for help with psychiatric conditions.

Dr. Jim Jirjis, an internal medicine physician at Vanderbilt University, said he treats about one-third of his patients for some sort of mental health problem.

"With the economy being what it is, a lot of patients just don't have the money for yet another co-pay," Jirjis said. "But another reason is they have a trusted, long-term relationship with their primary care doctor, and they may feel safer talking about depression or anxiety with them than going to a stranger to talk about it."

Dr. Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University, said this relationship may turn out to be useful because the current study found that patients with chronic health conditions like heart disease or obesity also reported greater mental health disability.

"Primary care settings are where people are regularly seen and cared for by a doctor for lots of things," Williams said. "What's needed is a way to provide them with mental health treatment in those settings."

Many experts agree that this current study shows how much progress has been made in reducing the stigma often attached to struggling with mental health. But many also hope to see much more progress made in making people feel better about getting the mental help they need.

"If people feel they can talk with a survey person over the phone about these issues, I think that shows us that educational and cultural efforts are helping people to feel that these problems are acceptable, and we need to do more of them," Duckworth said.

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