Mental illnesses are becoming more common worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, a quarter of people worldwide live with a mental health disorder, whether it’s a mood disorder like depression or something more severe like schizophrenia.

Although various treatments for mental illnesses are available, healthcare practices struggle to provide the quality of care patients need. When left untreated, mental illness can have dangerous consequences.

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Barriers to Mental Healthcare

Healthcare specialties undergo different challenges in managing different types of issues, but those who work with mental and behavioral conditions face these challenges:

Knowledge Gaps in Mental Healthcare

A report by the United Nations Human Rights stated that while there’s knowledge about the best mental health practices, most of it is outdated. Dainius Pūras, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, stated that today’s methods continue to follow two out-of-date concepts:

  1. People experiencing or are diagnosed with mental illnesses are dangerous
  2. Biomedical interventions (e.g., medication) are necessary for many conditions


The same report by the WHO stated that two-thirds of people with mental illnesses do not seek treatment. Several people with a mental illness choose not to seek treatment for fear of judgment by peers or the community.

Workforce Shortage

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive information on important health policy issues, the US needs more than 7,000 mental health clinicians to handle people with mental health illnesses. Patients who schedule an appointment face a waiting time of longer than one week, severely affecting them especially when they’re in crisis.

Parity of Mental Health Access

Even if a person decides to seek help, they often face challenges with accessing treatment. For example, they have to travel long distances to see a clinician. Patients also have limited access to in-network treatments, making it hard for them to access mental healthcare at an affordable price.

Lack of Efficient, High-Quality Mental Healthcare

When a patient does have access to healthcare, they may not get the treatment they need. Because of outdated concepts, a clinician may underdiagnose the condition. The use of traditional paper systems and generic office software may also affect the delivery of healthcare.

Improving Mental Healthcare Services

The WHO recommends an optimum combination of services to provide affordable mental healthcare services to those who frequently need it. To develop these services, the WHO recommends these solutions:

Limiting the number of psychiatric hospitals

Deinstitutionalizing psychiatric hospitals means switching to a healthcare model that provides care and treatment to general hospitals, community services, and primary health care. Limiting the number of psychiatric hospitals also lessens the fear of seeking treatment, as patients usually want to avoid stigma and social rejection.

However, governments should make sure that mental healthcare is easily accessible before deinstitutionalizing psychiatric hospitals.

Building community services for mental health

A combination of community mental health services is crucial to provide broader access to mental health care. Some community services include:

  • Day centers
  • Hospital diversion programs
  • Mobile crisis teams
  • Rehabilitation services
  • Therapeutic supervised services
  • Other support services

The lack of or inadequate community services means patients have to go to psychiatric hospitals and take up space that would have otherwise gone to people with more severe conditions.

As part of a holistic level of care, community mental health services should have strong links to other services like informal care, general hospitals, and primary healthcare.

Creating mental health systems in general hospitals

Given the nature of mental illnesses, patients may also need hospitalization for medical conditions associated with their mental health. Checking into general hospitals may also reveal that a medical condition is the result of an underlying mental illness.

Integrating mental health systems in general hospitals also gives clinicians a variety of sources. For example, practice management software can improve the collection of patient information and diagnosis, among several factors.

Incorporating mental healthcare services into primary healthcare

Adding mental healthcare to primary healthcare improves the accessibility of mental health services to patients. General healthcare in clinics and hospitals is usually close to where people live, and there is also less stigmatizing.

When incorporating mental healthcare services into primary healthcare, clinicians can provide:

  • Early identification of mental disorders
  • Management of stable patients
  • Promotional and prevention activities
  • Referral for treatment to other areas

Depending on who performs the first level of healthcare, any medical professional can carry out interventions, whether they’re a general practitioner, nurse, or other staff.

Building informal mental health services in the community

Informal health services are community services that are not part of the formal health system. These include the police, teachers, non-governmental organizations, and laypersons.

These services are essential because they prevent people with mental illnesses from moving up the level of necessary care. They also help ensure that patients discharged from the hospital don’t relapse or require care at a higher level.

Encouraging self-care

Self-care involves people managing their mental help problems themselves or with the help of family and friends. Learning self-care helps people develop skills in managing stress and emotions. They can also learn how to seek help and treatment.

Mental health is part of one’s overall health and shouldn’t be dismissed. However, although many people with mental illness plan to seek treatment, various barriers in the healthcare system prevent them from doing so. Following recommendations from the WHO can help healthcare systems worldwide manage and care for people with mental illness across all stages.

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