Objective: To identify the number of people in the United States with untreated serious mental illness (SMI) and the reasons for their lack of treatment.
Data source/study design: The National Comorbidity Survey; cross-sectional, nationally representative household survey.
Data collection: An operationalization of the SMI definition set forth in the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act identified individuals with SMI in the 12 months prior to the interview. The presence of SMI then was related to the use of mental health services in the past 12 months.
Principal findings: Of the 6.2 percent of respondents who had SMI in the year prior to interview, fewer than 40 percent received stable treatment. Young adults and those living in nonrural areas were more likely to have unmet needs for treatment. The majority of those who received no treatment felt that they did not have an emotional problem requiring treatment. Among those who did recognize this need, 52 percent reported situational barriers, 46 percent reported financial barriers, and 45 percent reported perceived lack of effectiveness as reasons for not seeking treatment. The most commonly reported reason both for failing to seek treatment (72 percent) and for treatment dropout (58 percent) was wanting to solve the problem on their own.
Conclusions: Although changes in the financing of services are important, they are unlikely by themselves to eradicate unmet need for treatment of SMI. Efforts to increase both self-recognition of need for treatment and the patient centeredness of care also are needed.