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National Survey on Drug Use and Health
Spotlight
May 20, 2015
1.5 Million Young Adults Do Not Receive Needed Mental Health Services
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Reasons for not receiving mental health services among young adults aged 18 to 25 who felt they needed mental health services in the past year: combined 2009 to 2013

This bar graph uses combined 2009 to 2013 NSDUH data to show the reasons for not receiving mental health services among young adults aged 18 to 25 who felt they needed mental health services in the past year. From 2009 to 2013, 692,000 young adults who felt they needed mental health services in the past year did not receive services because of reasons related to cost/insurance, 570,000 did not receive services because of structural barriers, 545,000 did not receive services because they perceived discrimination, 534,000 did not receive services because they had a low perceived need for services, and 180,000 did not receive services because they felt treatment would not help.

Although many mental health disorders can be treated, nearly half of young adults do not receive needed mental health services.1 According to combined 2009 to 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data, an annual average of 1.5 million young adults aged 18 to 25 felt they needed mental health services but did not receive any services in the past year. These young adults were asked to identify one or more reasons why they did not receive the services that they felt they needed.2 Cost/insurance issues were a barrier to getting mental health services for 692,000 young adults. About 545,000 young adults believed that getting services would cause them to experience discrimination from others, such as employers, friends, or family. Many young adults (570,000) had structural barriers to getting care, such as lack of transportation. Although these young adults felt an unmet need for services, 534,000 indicated that they had a low perceived need, and 180,000 indicated they did not think treatment would help.

Without treatment, mental health problems can negatively affect all areas of a person's life.3  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides resources for those seeking mental health care services. For information on accessing treatment, please visit https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov.

  1. Merikangas, K. R., He, J., Burstein, M., Swendsen, J., Avenevoli, S., Case, B., Georgiades, K., Heaton, L., Swanson, S., & Olfson, M. (2011). Service utilization for lifetime mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: Results of the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(1), 32–45.
  2. “Cost/insurance” includes the following response options: could not afford cost, health insurance does not cover any mental health treatment/counseling, and health insurance does not pay enough for mental health treatment/counseling. “Structural barriers” include no transportation/inconvenient, did not know where to go for services, and did not have time. “Perceived discrimination” includes might cause neighbors/community to have negative opinion, might have negative effect on job, did not want others to find out, concerned about confidentiality, and concerned about being committed/having to take medicine. “Low perceived need” includes did not feel need for treatment at the time and could handle the problem without treatment. 
  3. Government Accountability Office. (2008). Young adults with serious mental illness: Some states and federal agencies are taking steps to address their transition challenges (GAO-08-678). Washington, DC: Author.