World Mental Health Day: We Need More Treatment Options – and Access

One in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental health condition each year. Of those, only 43.3% received treatment last year. This World Mental Health Day, we’re highlighting the importance of both awareness and treatment for the millions of people struggling with symptoms.

Even treating the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, can be challenging. Up to one-third of adults with major depression don’t respond to at least two different antidepressants.;

"With nearly 50 million Americans impacted by mental illness, it's crucial researchers continue to focus on bringing new and promising treatments that can improve quality of life and health outcomes," Andrew Powaleny, Director of Public Affairs at PhRMA, tells Antidote. "And while the research is really difficult, biopharmaceutical researchers are seeking to leverage a growing understanding of the brain to develop these new treatments for patients." 

For other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, it can take several years to find the right treatment. And even if you find an effective treatment, unpleasant side effects can make it more challenging to stick with them. 

More research is needed to both better treat symptoms and understand their underlying mechanisms, which could open the door to additional treatment options. 

"Research helps us to find new medications and therapies to treat these mental illnesses that we still do not know much about," says John Poehler, blogger at the Bipolar Battle. "For my illness, bipolar disorder, I hope research finds new treatment options and therapies to better manage bipolar disorder."

Access to the right doctors for diagnosis and treatment can be another treatment barrier. In 2018, 11% of U.S. adults living with a mental health condition had no insurance in 2018. In the U.S., 60% of all counties do not have a single practicing psychiatrist. 

Even for those who are insured, not all insurance covers mental or emotional difficulties. The proportion of young people with private insurance that did not cover mental health nearly doubled from 2012 to 2017, jumping from 4.6% to 8.1%

While more mental health research can help open additional treatment paths for patients, under-served communities also need more access to psychiatric services so they can try new options when they become available. 

[H3] Mental health and chronic illness

Mental health issues can also go hand-in-hand with other illnesses, particularly chronic diseases. An estimated one-third of people with a chronic illness or condition experience symptoms of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic

Chronic illness can make it harder to get to social gatherings or even leave the house, which can lead to social isolation. 

"My eczema greatly affects my mental health. I've sat down and cried in the shower out of sheer frustration because having eczema can be so emotionally draining," says Alexis Smith, an Instagram influencer who shares her experience living with eczema. "I remember not being able to enjoy a long weekend beach vacation with my boyfriend and his family because I had a decent sized spot of weeping eczema on the back of my leg that would not heal no matter what I tried."

Some depression symptoms, such as low energy, can be mistaken for symptoms of your chronic illness. Negative feelings can also seem like a natural part of living with a difficult diagnosis. But if these symptoms are interfering with your daily life, it’s important to talk with your doctor about them and whether or not you may also be experiencing depression. 

Connecting with others living with your condition, whether online or through an in-person support group, can also help. 

"My advice for others is an extreme cliché: This too shall pass. I know that doesn't solve the problem, but acknowledging there is eventually going to be an end to each flare has helped me immensely," says Alexis. 

Whether you’re living with a mental health condition or other chronic illness, or have a loved one who is, you can help move research forward. New treatment options and deeper understandings of mental health can’t move forward without research volunteers. Start your search for a clinical trial below to help.