19 Mar 2011

The vast majority of Americans are unfamiliar with new benefits created by the federal mental health parity law, according to a new survey conducted by the American Psychological Association.  The poll found that 89 percent of those surveyed were not familiar with the law, which was passed in 2008 and mandated equal coverage for mental health and addiction benefits by insurance companies.

In the APA survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive among 2,940 adults in December 2010, nearly one-third of adults said they didn’t know if they had adequate mental health coverage and 45 percent said they were unsure if their insurance reimbursed for mental health care.

56 percent of the respondents selected cost of care as a reason why they or a family member might give for not seeking treatment. The other commonly selected reasons pointed to a need for improved communications about mental health treatment; not knowing how to find the right psychological professional (42 percent) and not knowing if seeking help is appropriate (40 percent).

One heartening result of the survey is in the area of stigma where our advocacy and education efforts have had a positive impact over the last decade. Historically, stigma has often been considered a major deterrent to seeking professional mental health care.  However, only eight percent of adults cited stigma as a top reason for not seeking treatment. An equal number reported their top concern as privacy or confidentiality.

More than 26 percent of American adults have a diagnosable mental health disorder, but of those, only 33 percent are receiving care, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.