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Nine articles on problems in access to mental health services [reading list]

Mental Illness Awareness Week occurs in the first full week of October. This year, we’re focusing on the breaking down the barriers that prevent people with mental health issues from receiving adequate treatment. One in three people worldwide will experience disruptions in their mental health over the course of their lives. Yet most people in need of psychological services do not receive professional help.

We’ve put together a reading list of articles which expose a number of barriers to treatment of mental illness – including stigma, financial constraints, and global inequalities – and explore potential strategies to overcome these obstacles.

Treatment gap: barriers to providing and receiving services

This article exposes the gap between mental health services that are needed and those that are provided. It examines the key problems and impediments that currently exist, and which new models of treatment and delivery could help surmount current barriers.

Barriers and facilitators to acceptance of mental illness

In this piece, the authors ask people with serious mental illness to talk about what has helped them feel acceptance, and what tends to stand in their way.


The stigma attached to mental illness can prevent people from seeking treatment. Fear of disclosing one’s mental or substance use disorder is the most commonly reported reason for people, especially youth, not seeking help. This piece summarizes research on stigma for the general population, and addresses specific issues facing young people.

In my voice: speaking out about mental health and stigma 

In his stirring contribution, psychologist Jeffrey Liew tackles the shame and stigma of admitting mental illness in Chinese-American culture.

Overcoming stigma II: media and mental health professionals

This piece discusses strategies geared toward altering negative portrayals of mental illness in various forms of public media. Such strategies are important for those interested in stigma reduction. The article addresses the need for mental health professionals to confront their own views toward mental illness and promote change.

Cultural competency in mental health services

Disparities in access and quality in health and mental health services and treatment outcomes among racial and ethnic minorities have been well documented. This entry chronicles the history of mental health services and the development of cultural competency in social work practice. It then discusses mental health services use and barriers to access among racial and ethnic minorities.

Ethics in mental health care: a public health perspective

This chapter explores ethical issues in mental health policy from a public health perspective. It shifts the focus of ethical discourse to the population level and to the values that ought to be sought in a system for delivering mental health services, such as enhancing access, promoting recovery and empowerment, and nurturing community integration.

Global perspectives on mental health care

There is a large disparity in the degree to which countries acknowledge the importance of mental health and support work in this area. While no country has exemplary mental health care, this article reviews how various nations have worked to improve mental health for their citizens.

Mental illness: worldwide 

Mental health issues are a major public health concern. The indirect costs to the global economy of mental illness—encompassing productivity and the spending on mental health services and other direct costs—amount to approximately $2.5 trillion a year. By 2030 it is expected that depression will be the leading cause of the global disease burden.  This article outlines the scope of the problem and possible interventions to help combat this health crisis.

These articles show the many barriers to mental health services. The magnitude of these barriers is particularly concerning given the high prevalence of depression and other mental disorders across the world. Many of these barriers are  ingrained deeply in the fabric of socio-economic life, and will take considerable efforts to overcome. With some of the solutions here, we can began to address these issues.

Featured image: “Silhouette” by Gift Habeshaw. Public domain via Unsplash.

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