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Mental Health: Many Challenges to Getting Needed Help


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) each year conducts a national survey tracking trends on mental health and substance use disorders. We’ll take a look at some data from 2016, the latest available, on how many people are affected, how many are getting treatment and why many are not getting treatment.

In 2016, an about 18 percent of U. S. adults aged 18 or older had a mental illness, including about 4 percent with a serious mental illness. Although the overall rates of mental illness have remained steady over the past decade, the report identifies some difference by age. About 22 percent of young adults (18 to 25) experienced a mental illness in the past year, including about 6 percent with serious mental illness. The rate of serious mental illness among this age group has been increasing. More young adults had a serious mental illness in 2016 than in any of the past 10 years tracked by SAMHSA. The rate of mental illness was lowest among adults aged 50 or older, about 15 percent, including about 3 percent with serious mental illness.

In 2016, about 8 percent of adults (about 19.0 million adults) 18 or older had a substance use disorder, including alcohol use disorder or an illicit drug use disorder. An estimated one in nine young adults had an alcohol use disorder in the past year. While alcohol use disorder has dropped significantly over the last 10 years among young adults, it is still much higher than among adults 26 and older. About one in 20 adults 26 and older had an alcohol use disorder.

Many don’t receive treatment

Among adults with any mental illness, less than half (43 percent) received treatment in the past year. Of those that did, prescription medication was the most common form (37 percent). About a quarter (24 percent) received outpatient treatment, and about 3 percent received inpatient treatment.

Among adults with serious mental illness, about two-thirds (65 percent) received treatment in the past year, including about 58 percent taking prescription medication, 43 percent receiving outpatient treatment and 8 percent receiving inpatient treatment. These percentages have remained consistent over the past decade.

Most people with substance use disorder are not getting treatment. About one in nine adults with a substance use disorder received any substance use treatment in the past year. About 60 percent of those received treatment at a specialty facility.

Why people don’t get treatment

Many people needing mental health or substance use treatment don’t receive it – the national survey provides some answers why. Among the top reasons reported for not receiving mental health services: more than one-third said they could not afford treatment, more than 30 percent thought it could be handled without treatment and about a quarter did not know where to go for services. (See charts)

The top reason people cited for not getting substance use treatment included not being ready to stop using, not being able to afford it and not knowing where to get services. For both mental health and substance use services, about one-quarter of people noted concerns related to stigma—causing negative opinions in the community or negative effects on their job.


Reasons for Not Receiving Mental Health Services

among Adults Aged 18 or Older with a Perceived Unmet Need for Mental Health Services Who Did Not Receive Services: Percentages, 2016. NSDUH (Respondents could indicate multiple reasons for not receiving services)

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Reasons for Not Receiving Substance Use Treatment

among Adults Aged 18 or Older Who Felt They Needed Treatment in the Past Year: Percentages, 2016. NSDUH (Respondents could indicate multiple reasons for not receiving services)

Enlarge Chart


If you are concerned about mental health, a simple first step is an online screening. You can access screening for depression, anxiety and other disorders through Screening for Mental Health.

You can locate treatment providers through the Behavioral Health Services Treatment Locator.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2017. National Survey on Drug Use and Health.


AnxietyDissociative DisordersADHDBipolar DisordersIntellectual DisabilitySleep DisordersDepressionAutismPatients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderGender DysphoriaAlzheimer’sOCDPersonality DisordersEating DisordersGambling DisorderSpecific Learning DisorderSomatic Symptom DisorderSchizophreniaPostpartum depressionAddictionPTSD


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