Americans' attitudes toward mental health treatment seeking: 1990-2003

Psychiatr Serv. 2007 May;58(5):642-51. doi: 10.1176/ps.2007.58.5.642.


Objective: This study examined recent trends in Americans' attitudes toward mental health treatment seeking and beliefs about the effectiveness of such treatment.

Methods: Data on attitudes and beliefs from two representative surveys of the U.S. general population were compared. Samples included 5,388 participants from the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) in 1990-1992 and 4,319 from the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication (NCS-R) in 2001-2003.

Results: Participants in the 2001-2003 survey were more willing than those in the 1990-1992 survey to seek professional help for mental health problems (41.4% reported that they would "definitely go" for professional help in 2001-2003, compared with 35.6% in 1990-1992). Participants in the more recent survey were also more comfortable talking with a professional about personal problems (32.4% in 2001-2003 reported feeling "very comfortable," compared with 27.1% in 1990-1992) and were less likely to say that they would be embarrassed if others found out about it (40.3% reported being "not at all embarrassed" in 2001-2003, compared with 33.7% in 1990-1992). Attitudes of younger participants improved more than attitudes of middle-aged participants. Public beliefs about the effectiveness of mental health treatment and the likelihood of recovery without treatment changed little across surveys.

Conclusions: Mental health treatment seeking has become more acceptable over the past decade, and perceived stigma associated with it has declined. These changes in public attitudes have likely contributed to the growing demand for mental health services in the United States and will continue to do so in the coming years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care* / statistics & numerical data
  • Public Opinion*
  • United States