Dropping out of mental health treatment: patterns and predictors among epidemiological survey respondents in the United States and Ontario

Am J Psychiatry. 2002 May;159(5):845-51. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.159.5.845.


Objective: The authors interviewed individuals treated for self-described mental health problems in the preceding year to examine patterns and predictors associated with dropping out of treatment.

Method: Subjects were drawn from respondents to community epidemiological surveys carried out in representative samples of the United States and Ontario populations. Dropouts were those who had left mental health treatment during the prior year for reasons other than symptom improvement. The surveys also assessed potential dropout correlates: sociodemographic characteristics, attitudes about mental health care, disorder type, provider type, and treatment received.

Results: The proportion of dropouts did not significantly differ between the United States (19.2%) and Ontario (16.9%), nor did the effects of the predictors differ significantly between the two samples. Sociodemographic characteristics associated with treatment dropout included low income, young age, and, in the United States, lacking insurance coverage for mental health treatment. Patient attitudes associated with dropout included viewing mental health treatment as relatively ineffective and embarrassment about seeing a mental health provider. Respondents who received both medication and talk therapy were less likely to drop out than those who received single-modality treatments.

Conclusions: Mental health treatment dropout is a serious problem, especially among patients who have low income, are young, lack insurance, are offered only single-modality treatments, and have negative attitudes about mental health care. Cost-effective interventions targeting these groups are needed to increase the proportion of patients who complete an adequate course of treatment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude to Health
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Medically Uninsured / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Patient Dropouts / classification
  • Patient Dropouts / psychology
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Probability
  • Psychotherapy
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Psychotropic Drugs