Help! Barriers to Seeking Psychological Treatment

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Help! Barriers to Seeking Psychological Treatment

The changing millennium has ushered in a new era of mental health awareness and acceptance. There are media stories, movies, campaigns by public health organizations, and personal experiences widely shared with the intention of breaking down barriers to getting support. Despite this increased knowledge of the causes, symptoms, impact, and treatment for psychological difficulties, many people do not seek the help they need. Data collected between 2001 and 2014 from the Canadian Health Survey found that less than half of people who reported fair to low mental health sought help from a professional. So why are some people reluctant to seek treatment for their mental health? Research suggests that there are four main reasons that people avoid seeking mental health services:

  1. Stigma

    Many people fear the stereotypes that are associated with mental illness, both real and imagined. There are two major types of mental health stigma: public stigma and self-stigma. Public stigma refers to the attitudes and perceptions of the community in which we live, and self-stigma refers to internalized beliefs about mental health and illness.

    Different communities, including our family, cultural, or occupational groups, endorse stereotyped beliefs about psychological difficulties to varying degrees. For many communities, struggling with our emotions is seen as a sign of weakness or as an impediment to fulfilling our role obligations. For example, many first responders experience the weight of a culture of strength and toughness that make expressing vulnerability feel like weakness. Many new moms feel pressure to be blissfully happy in the newborn period, as if they are not “maternal” enough if they experience postpartum mood or anxiety. Some of this stigma is overt, in terms of the messages we receive from others, and some is covert (e.g., the words used to discuss mental health versus physical health). It is understandable, then, that many people come to internalize these beliefs and see them as truths. However, even though these beliefs may seem like the truth, they may not fully represent the whole truth. Our perception of public stigma is usually an exaggeration of what others really believe and is amplified by our own beliefs and fears.

  2. Denial

    Some people may struggle to accept that they are struggling, perhaps because of a fear of stigma, discomfort with a label, or because they don’t recognize the significance of their problems. Rusch, Angermeyer, and Corrigan (2005) reported that individuals who avoid seeking mental health support may be trying to avoid stigma or being viewed by others as “mentally ill.” In addition, some people who are receiving treatment sometimes stop abruptly before treatment is complete because of their social environment and fear of being labeled.

    Other people may not be aware of the symptoms or the severity of the impairment. This can happen for several reasons, but often the slow onset of psychological changes means that it can be hard to recognize when it is happening. Our changing moods or behaviours can be seen as the new normal, or reasonable, given the stresses in our lives. However, anger, sadness, anxiety, or guilt do not have to be accepted as normal. When these emotions are prolonged, intense, too frequent, or very different from what is normal for you, this may be a sign that change is needed.

  3. The nature of the condition

    Psychological difficulties come in many different shapes and sizes, and even the same disorder can affect people in different ways. For instance, depression can result in increase or decrease appetite, energy, or sleeping patterns. Similarly, anxiety presents differently depending on the focus of one’s fear and, for some, results in having difficulty making phone calls, leaving the house, or speaking with others.  Consequently, the very nature of the problems for which people need help may be interfering with their ability to get the help that they need.

  4. Financial Barriers

    A major barrier to seeking mental health support is financial. Private psychological services are not covered under our provincial health care plan (OHIP), and some extended health insurance plans to not provide adequate coverage. Some estimates suggest that almost 50% of individuals with a mood, anxiety, or substance use disorder do not receive the care they need due to cost. However, many psychologists offer a sliding scale depending on the client’s income. Further, the immediate financial costs are often outweighed by the short- and long-term costs of failing to get the help that one needs, in terms of lost time or productivity at work, lower overall quality of life, impact on physical health, and impaired relationships.

  5. There are several factors that make it difficult to seek support for psychological difficulties. Despite these barriers, times are changing, and we are seeing an increasing awareness and acceptance of mental health services. Psychological struggles are increasingly seen as a normal part of the human experience. Illness is illness, whether physical or mental. In fact, it is nearly impossible to have physical health without mental health. If you or a loved one is struggling, reach out to get the help that you need in order to live a full, active, and healthy life.

    Guelph CBT is a collaborative team of mental health professionals working together to help you make meaningful and lasting changes in your life. They offer evidence-based assessments and therapies that have been shown by research to effectively assess, diagnose, and treat psychological difficulties. If you are struggling with anxiety, stress, insomnia, or other emotional problems, or if you are looking to make changes in your life, please call 519-265-9596 or visit

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