Top 3 Barriers to Behavioral Health Treatment

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), most people in the United States who have mental illnesses are not receiving the care that could significantly improve their lives.

The NIMH reported that about 57.8 million adults in the United States struggled with mental health disorders in 2021 — but only about 47% of these people received therapy, medication, or other relevant services.

What can behavioral healthcare facilities do? Removing these top three barriers to behavioral health treatment can make a world of difference.

1. Location: Meeting People Where They Are

Many providers talk about meeting people where they are. Usually, they are speaking metaphorically about addressing the nature and severity of a person’s current behavioral healthcare needs.

Kathy Dettling, VP of Clinical Strategies for SimiTree Behavioral Health, encourages behavioral healthcare professionals to adopt a much more literal interpretation of this statement.

“When you’re advocating for behavioral health treatment, it’s a matter of finding out where the person is located and looking for the least restrictive, most effective environment [for providing care],” Dettling said.

Here are a few ideas for how to accomplish that:

  • Establishing walk-in clinics and stabilization centers (similar to urgent care facilities for physical health needs)
  • Partnering with medical providers to place behavioral health therapists or social workers in the primary care environment
  • Co-locating behavioral health facilities with medical centers

“A behavioral health facility sharing space with a medical facility is an ideal situation,” Dettling said.

The benefits of this scenario can be enhanced if doctors incorporate a brief mental health screening into their patient assessment process. If this screening indicates that someone is struggling with depression, addiction, or another non-medical concern, the individual can immediately be scheduled for on-site behavioral health treatment.

2. Perception: Changing the Conversation About Behavioral Health Treatment

If someone has no prior experience with behavioral healthcare, their opinion of these services may be influenced by what they’ve seen on TV and in the movies. This means that the average person may envision either being locked up in a facility or lying on a therapist’s couch.

An individual who holds either of these views of behavioral healthcare may be unlikely to consent to behavioral health treatment, no matter how convenient it is to access care. Thus, in addition to reconsidering where a facility provides behavioral health treatment, it is also important to re-evaluate how people are connected with these services.

For example, someone may hesitate when asked if they are willing to be assessed by a mental health provider that they’ve never met before. But that same person may have no problem responding honestly when their doctor or another trusted professional asks them questions such as, “Are there times when you feel alone or afraid?” or “What types of activities or projects bring joy to your life these days?”

When a person answers these types of questions, they are talking about their mental health. However, instead of feeling like they are being evaluated, they are simply having a conversation with someone who they know has their best interests at heart.

These conversations can help to eliminate the artificial barrier between physical and mental healthcare — which can, in turn, remove an obstacle that may have been preventing people from getting the help they need.

3. Awareness: Promoting the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

The location and perception issues that we discussed in the previous two sections are most relevant to people who are aware of their behavioral health options but either can’t or won’t access these services.

But what about people who have no idea about the types and levels of care that are available to them? Lack of awareness remains a significant barrier to behavioral health treatment.

To combat this problem, Dettling encourages behavioral healthcare providers to promote the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. People can access the lifeline by calling or texting 988, or by visiting the website and using the chat feature. The service is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

People who contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline will speak with a clinician in their state who can assess their needs and connect them with appropriate local resources.

For people who are in imminent danger, this may include emergency responders. For those who can benefit from therapy, counseling, or other forms of support, the state-specific teams that staff the lifeline can provide up-to-date information about behavioral healthcare providers and social service agencies in each caller’s area.

“People don’t have to call multiple numbers and worry about being turned away,” Dettling said. The lifeline is designed to serve all people, regardless of their location, the scope of their behavioral health needs, or their ability to pay for treatment.

How SimiTree Can Help Your Facility Remove Obstacles to Behavioral Health Treatment

Once a prospective client has connected with your facility, are you prepared to get them into treatment with minimal delay? From the efficiency of your intake procedures through the effectiveness of your utilization review efforts, SimiTree Behavioral Health can ensure that your internal processes aren’t placing another obstacle between your patients and the care they are seeking. Contact us today to speak with an expert.