ADHD News & Research

Study: 4 in 10 U.S. Adults Lack Access to Mental Health, Substance Use Care

Barriers to mental health treatment and/or substance use care exist for 43% of U.S. adults today. Lack of access to care is perpetuating further problems at work and at home, according to a new study.

June 14, 2022

Barriers to mental health treatment impacted more than 4 in 10 U.S. adults who needed care for substance use or mental health in the past 12 months but were unable to receive it. This unmet demand for mental health care is more than double that for primary health care, according to an online survey of 2,053 U.S. adults conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.1 Of the 43% of participants unable to access mental health or substance use services, 42% said they needed and unsuccessfully pursued mental health care and 24% said they needed substance use care.

Even those who ultimately did access care reported significant barriers to treatment. Among those who received substance use care, 81% reported trouble accessing care. Among those who received mental health care, 67% reported trouble accessing care but eventually met with a provider. Cost, location, preferred meeting format (virtual or in-person), and wait time were common contributing factors to lack of treatment.

In addition, a lack of culturally diverse services was reported by 13% of those with unmet mental health needs and by 17% of those with unmet substance use needs. Those percentages were slightly higher among those who did receive care. Most participants reported feeling as though there weren’t enough providers prepared to address issues related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

“Recruiting more mental health and substance use professionals must be a top priority – and that workforce must reflect the rich diversity of our nation,” wrote Chuck Ingoglia, President and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. “We won’t be able to increase access to care or meet the historic demand for mental health and substance use care with an inadequate number of people employed to provide treatment.”1

Of the adults who lacked access to mental health care, 44% reported a decline in mental wellbeing, 45% reported problems at work, and 50% reported relationships issues. Slightly lower statistics were found among adults seeking substance use care.

Many adults believe paying out-of-pocket is easier than going through an insurance provider. In fact, 59% believe it is easier or faster to pay on their own. Seventy-one percent believe that it would be more convenient to receive mental healthcare through a primary care doctor. Furthermore, 67% think it’s much harder to find a mental healthcare provider than it is a primary care provider.

According to survey results, men were more likely to report a need for substance use care in the past year (30% of males vs. 17% of females). Adults ages 18 to 41 were most likely to report needing both substance use and mental health services.

“The pandemic led to increased substance use and mental health challenges for people of all ages and all backgrounds, yet too many people are not getting the care they need,” Ingoglia said. “It is not enough to acknowledge the problem. We must break down these barriers.”

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1National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (2022, May 31). More than 4 in 10 U.S. Adults Who Needed Substance Use and Mental Health Care Did Not Get Treatment.